Sport

Johnson-Thompson eyes elusive European Championship gold

Katarina Johnson-Thompson is hell-bent on winning a maiden European title to propel her towards the Paris Olympics.

The Liverpudlian has underlined the European Athletics Championships as a critical target in her pre-Games calendar.

The Olympic and European outdoor crowns are the only titles to have eluded the heptathlete in her storybook career so far, with Johnson-Thompson targeting the latter when she lines up at the Olympic Stadium in Rome from June 7-12.

“It’s a title I haven’t won – it’s a title I would like to have,” said the 31-year-old.

“But as a heptathlete, I know so much can go right, so much can go wrong, so much can happen, so much can happen in the lead-up.

“I just really want to put out a good performance and I think I can get the best performances when I say that rather than thinking about the outcome.

“I’m feeling really motivated – probably more motivated than ever coming off the back of last year. Now I just want to put out a good performance.”

Standing in KJT’s way will be long-time rival Nafi Thiam.

They are the foremost heptathletes of their era but the pair haven’t been truly fit and firing for a head-to-head battle since winning gold and silver at the 2018 European Championships, both since assailed by achilles injuries.

Thiam was wearing heavy strapping on her elbow when Johnson-Thompson took gold at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, the British star’s first world title and the Belgian’s first defeat since 2016.

Johnson-Thompson battled injury issues at Tokyo 2020 and languished in eighth – the lowest point of her career – when Thiam returned to top step at the 2022 Worlds in Eugene.

Double Olympic gold medallist Thiam was absent with achilles issues when Johnson-Thompson was crowned world champion in Budapest last summer but the pair look to be on a collision course in the Italian capital.

The duo’s friendly rivalry has loomed over women’s multi-eventing since the retirement of Jessica Ennis-Hill in 2016.

Johnson-Thompson made her Olympic debut as a wide-eyed teenager at London 2012 and took inspiration from Ennis-Hill’s composure under unimaginable pressure.

“In 2012, she was somebody I was just watching more than anything else,” Johnson-Thompson remembers.

“She allowed me to be part of those two days – that was quite special for everyone. I was behind the scenes watching how she dealt with it, watching what she did between events. It shows me what was possible.

“It was an important phase of my life – I was learning about the sport without the pressures of the sport. She taught me a lot in different phases in her career but at that stage it was about how to conduct yourself.”

Johnson-Thompson has come a long way since being plucked out of a crowd at school and being asked to try the high jump because of her height.

Ennis-Hill might have driven her forwards but the 31-year-old is unequivocal when it comes to her biggest inspiration: mum Tracey.

“My mum did everything,” she says. “She didn’t have a car for her to ferry me around in but we would go a lot of places together on the bus or on the train but we would have an adventure each time.

“My mum has only missed a handful of competitions to this day. She is such a positive influence in my life. When I realise the amount of time she’s given to me, I definitely admire her.”

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