Shortly after Katharina Johnson-Thompson crossed the finish line here at Gotzis with the third lowest score of seven in her illustrious career, a sliver of light pierced the dark clouds and warm rain. It suits her mood better.
Because while the raw facts of her performance — 6,174 points, more than 800 points short of her best — seemed deeply worrisome for her chances of defending her world title in July, the 29-year-old came out with optimism and a challenge.
“Seven weeks is a long time in my world,” she said after finishing seventh behind Anouk Vetter. “I know I can change that.”
The message was clear: Don’t panic — and don’t give up. It wasn’t when this was the first heptathlon to complete since winning the world title in October 2019, before serious Achilles and calf injuries in 2020 and 2021 threatened her career.
“I’ve been in worse situations before,” Johnson-Thompson said. “I’m leaving healthy. I don’t have to go to rehab now and worry about it. It’s disappointing, but I don’t panic.”
Record records show she scored lower in the heptathlon as a teenager just before the 2012 London Olympics – and then at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, when she was forced to continue after scoring a zero in the long jump.
She knows some people will write it off quickly. You can feel that she likes him that way. It will make her training more difficult in the coming weeks. “I love being underdog and always cheer up an underdog. So it’s good to have that rating.”
But 29-year-old Johnson-Thompson must know she faces a tough task if she is to retain her world title. In Doha, she scored 6,981 points en route to winning the gold medal. A total of about 6600 is usually good enough to finish the podium. The harsh truth is that she needs to find more than 400 points in the next few weeks.
“But I think I could have scored extra points in the high jump, shooting and definitely in the 800 metres,” she said. “And there was also a tricky side wind in the spear shaft. So I guess it’s all there. And I always attend tournaments.”
Gotzes has always been a multi-event city: the small Austrian town where Daley Thompson broke two world records in 1980 and 1982 and Jessica Ennis-Hill won three before taking gold in London in 2012. Alchemy is often in the cool festival air. But in conditions closer to Liverpool in February than Austria on the fringes of the summer, Johnson-Thompson was unable to find her best form.
However, there were at least signs of optimism on day two, with a powerful 6.37m jump followed by a 40.78m javelin – her best in nearly three years, despite rain and cooler temperatures in the single digits.
Conditions were even worse entering the final event, the 800m, and Johnson-Thompson wisely took it slow, running in 2:19:34 – 12 seconds slower than her personal best. After that, their well-respected new coach, Petros Kyprianou, admitted things didn’t quite go as planned, but insisted there was still plenty of time to turn things around.
“When you support a hero,” he said, “you have to support him for the good, the bad, and the ugly.” “And now we’re between bad and ugly. But I’ve said it 100 times, it’s the big tournament in July or August that counts.”
Kyprianou agreed that Johnson-Thompson missed his goal before the 6,400-point event. But he insisted it was entirely possible for them to improve by averaging 50-60 points per event by July — and then fight for a medal.
He said, “I am a bottom line man.” “I’m more realistic than optimistic. And 6600 is the magic number for the medal. Kat marvels when I give her the target numbers for each event. And honestly, she missed every event except the 200m and came close to the javelin.”
“But remember that she started training very late – I only started running at the end of January. So getting 50 or 60 extra points for each World Championship event is very realistic.”
Another British contender, Holly Mills, had an excellent second day to finish sixth, ahead of Johnson-Thompson. After a 6.25-meter long jump, the 23-year-old threw a 39.07-meter PB in the javelin before making a new personal best with the 800-meter pistol-to-bar in 2:08:07 and scored 6,260 points.
“I didn’t want to hit her or think of her hitting me,” said Mills, who will skip the World Championships for crack at the Commonwealth and European Games. “It’s a huge achievement to beat the world champion. She may not have been at her best, but doing it is an amazing thing I can say.