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‘This is for her’: Johnson-Thompson follows family loss with heptathlon gold | Commonwealth Games 2022

After the sorrow and the suffering, the glory and the pain. Katarina Johnson-Thompson has been through the wars over the past three injury-ravaged years, and last week she also lost her grandmother Mary. Yet in front of an adoring home crowd she summoned a performance of no little resolve to retain her Commonwealth Games heptathlon title.

The look on Johnson-Thompson’s face after crossing the line in the 800m spoke volumes. Yes, her body hurt after seven punishing events over two days. But she was also happy. Deliriously happy. “This was for her,” Johnson-Thompson said, as the cheers turned to enormous empathy. “She unfortunately passed away a couple of days after I returned from Eugene so it’s been a tough week so I’m just happy to get through it.

“It’s been particularly hard because the last champs at Glasgow indoors she was here so it was quite hard not to see her face in the crowd.”

True, the standard was more British championship level, with six of the eight competitors coming from Great Britain and Northern Ireland. And Johnson-Thompson’s winning score of 6,377 was also modest by her high standards. But after so much tears and turbulence this victory, her first in the heptathlon since October 2019, tasted particularly sweet.

Most athletes struggle to come back from one career-threatening injury. Johnson has had two over the past two years. A three-inch scar on her left achilles tendon, and another on a torn right calf muscle she sustained at the Tokyo Olympics, have healed but they have also left their mark.

“It feels incredibly especially this one, a home champs. I’ve really put a lot of work and effort and heart and soul to be here on this line especially after the tough turnaround in Eugene. So, I’m really happy.”

Katarina Johnson-Thompson finished with a comparatively low winning score.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson finished with a comparatively low winning score. Photograph: Jonny Weeks/The Guardian

Johnson-Thompson, who came here off the back of finishing eighth at the world championships, went into day two leading by 109 points from Northern Ireland’s Kate O’Connor. She then extended it with a long jump of a 6.33m best on her third and final attempt. However she was not out of the woods, with O’Connor having a far better javelin. But this was where Johnson-Thompson summoned up a champion’s heart, thowing 44.33m on a final attempt to surpass her personal best by 30cm.

That left Johnson-Thompson with big enough lead to know gold was secure and she made it so by finishing the 800m in 2:13.93. O’Connor took silver with 6,233 points, while England’s Jade O’Dowda claimed bronze on 6,212.

This gold came exactly 10 years ago to the day since Johnson-Thompson made her major championship debut at the 2012 Olympics, where she finished in 13th place on 6,267 points. It was the start of a glorious career that has brought her five major titles, including a world championship gold medal in 2019, but also some recent setbacks.

This performance answered some questions, but also raised others. Earlier this summer Johnson-Thompson had not completed a heptathlon for three years. Now she has finished three in nine weeks. That, undoubtedly, is a huge positive. But amid the celebrations the fact that her three scores – 6,174 points in Götzis, 6,222 in Eugene, and now 6,377 here – are among the lowest of her career should not be ignored, either.

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To put it into context, Nafi Thiam won the world championships in Eugene a fortnight ago with a score of 6,974 points, while the bronze was secured with 6,755. It isn’t a gap that Johnson-Thompson now has to overcome, but a chasm. But if anything can make the leap it is surely the popular Liverpudlian.

“I’m just happy to get through fit and healthy,” she said. “It wasn’t about the points, it was about being competitive. Hopefully this’ll be a stepping stone for me and next year I can put everything behind me and start really fresh.”

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