SJA Sportswoman of the Year: The case for Katarina Johnson-Thompson

SJA members can vote now to decide the winners of three major categories at the Awards, to be held at The Kia Oval in London on Thursday 7 December; Jake Wightman, Beth Mead and the Lionesses claimed the equivalent 2022 honours; who will take the top prizes this year? Voting deadline is 15 November…

By Katherine Walsh

The sweetest of redemptions. The most dramatic of finishes. A historic world gold medal for Katarina Johnson-Thompson in the heptathlon at the Athletics World Championships in Budapest. 

Only two years after being offered a wheelchair to exit the Olympic arena in Tokyo, Johnson-Thompson defied all odds – and self-doubt over her fitness – to become only the third British woman to win two world titles in athletics.

The Liverpool native, 30, collapsed with joy as she pulled off one of the upsets of the championships by fighting off a bold challenge from the American favourite Anna Hall.

She won the heptathlon by 20 points – the narrowest margin in World Championships history.

Johnson-Thompson told BBC Sport: “I had committed to getting my heart broken again, only this time I didn’t.

“This is probably one of the best performances I’ve done in my life.

“It’s like being in a dream. I have been thinking about this for months and nobody else could see the vision apart from me and my team.” 

A possible career ending injury over lockdown that required an operation on her Achilles tendon, coupled with a tear to her calf muscle suffered on the 200m in Japan, saw the Brit question her future in the sport.

But in August, she managed to overcome all adversity. 

After three events into the heptathlon, she sat fifth, with Hall leading. 

But Johnson-Thompson’s first place in the 200m nudged her into second place overnight. 

The Brit catapulted to the top with a 1020-point performance in the long-jump, while a personal best of 46.14m in javelin increased her momentum. 

Going into the 800m, she had to stay within three seconds of the American to clinch gold – and she did just that. 

The 800m is not her strongest event, admitting “training was gruelling and painful”, but it proved the difference as she shattered her personal best by two seconds in running two minutes and five seconds.

Her final score of 6740 added 184 points onto her season’s best. 

The Loughborough-based athlete added: “That was the easiest run I’ve ever done in my life.”

A lot has happened for KJT since winning her last worlds gold in Doha in 2019, with her heart-breaking Olympics withdrawal followed up with a disappointing eighth place finish at last year’s World Championships in Oregon.

However, she rebounded to secure her second Commonwealth Games gold in Birmingham last summer and now the world champion will head to the 2024 Paris Olympics as one of the contenders for gold. 

As Olympic track champion, Michael Johnson, testified: “She has slayed the dragon and banished the demons.”

Sports journalist Katherine Walsh is a member of the SJA Academy, find out more about membership here.