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Johnson-Thompson returns to the top of world heptathlon podium in Budapest

For any athlete, staying uninjured and in one piece is a challenge. Even more so for combined eventers who have to train for several disciplines.

Just ask Olympic champion Nafissatou Thiam, who was forced to withdraw from the defence of her world title due to achilles tendon issues.

Or ask world leader Anna Hall, who went into the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 as the favourite, following her 6988 PB to win at the Hypo Meeting in Gotzis, but battled her way through the two days of competition carrying a knee injury.

Or perhaps ask Katarina Johnson-Thompson, the newly crowned world champion, who has had more than her fair share of injuries and misfortune over the years, but persevered in spite of it all and was rewarded with her third global title this evening in Budapest.

From the outset, it was clear that the competition would be closer than the world lists would have suggested. Hall and Johnson-Thompson had last clashed in Gotzis, where Hall scored her world-leading 6988 to move to fifth on the world all-time list. Johnson-Thompson was second on that occasion with 6556, a score she was more than content with, given the journey she had taken to get there.

She rehabbed her way back from injury in the first half of 2021 to make it to the Olympic start line, only to suffer yet another injury during the heptathlon 200m in Tokyo to take her out of action yet again.

Johnson-Thompson returned to form – albeit still some way off her best – in 2022, finishing eighth at the World Championships, but her season ended on a high when she took gold at the Commonwealth Games on home soil.

She continued to build on that this year, and she took great confidence from her runner-up finish in Gotzis. So she headed to Budapest quietly confident of making it on to the podium – perhaps even on the top spot.

With each event, that dream seemed to become more and more of a reality.

Hall started well, clocking 12.97 in the hurdles to Johnson-Thompson’s 13.50. The gap seemed big, but Hall was some way down on her Gotzis mark, while Johnson-Thompson was up on hers.

Hall’s US teammates Taliyah Brooks (12.78) and Chari Hawkins (13.04) performed well in that event, while Vetter opened with a solid 13.42 clocking.

Johnson-Thompson had the best mark of the day in the high jump, 1.86m, which was three centimetres higher than Hall’s best (1.83m). Hall moved into the lead, followed by her two compatriots, but Johnson-Thompson was still close behind.

Hall managed to extend her lead in the shot put, throwing a lifetime best of 14.54m. Johnson-Thompson recorded a solid 13.64m, while Vetter jumped up the leaderboard thanks to her 15.72m heave.

Johnson-Thompson made a further dent in Hall’s lead in the 200m, clocking the fastest time of the day, 23.48, and finishing 0.08 ahead of Hall. The US athlete held the overnight lead with 3998, but Johnson-Thompson was in second place with 3905, five points ahead of Hawkins. Vetter, meanwhile, was down in seventh (3792).

Johnson-Thompson started the second day in the same way she had ended the first – by posting the best mark of the field. Her 6.54m leap in the long jump gave her the overall lead for the first time in the competition, putting her 19 points ahead of Hall – now competing with strapping on her leg – who managed 6.19m.

The standings changed again after the javelin, which is where Vetter excels. The Olympic silver medallist from the Netherlands threw a championship best of 59.57m to propel herself up to second place overall.

Johnson-Thompson, meanwhile, threw a PB of 46.14m to maintain her place at the top of the standings. Hall initially struggled, starting with a foul, then throwing 37.92m, but she ended with a season’s best of 44.88m to stay in contention.

It meant that Johnson-Thompson went into the final event, the 800m, with a 43-point lead over Hall, which translates to about 2.8 seconds in 800m terms. Hall is one of the fastest heptathletes in history over two laps of the track, but this time she had the pressure of needing to finish comfortably ahead of her main rival – while running on a leg that wasn’t at 100%.

Johnson-Thompson had pressure, too: needing to stick within a few seconds of a woman who is capable of running 2:02 for 800m. The 30-year-old Brit lined up with a PB of 2:07.26.

Hall went out hard – perhaps too hard – on the first lap, passing through 200m in 27.73 and 400m in 58.59, speedy even for elite 800m runner terms. Johnson-Thompson was already two seconds adrift at this point; she couldn’t afford to lose much more ground.

But Johnson-Thompson kept Hall in her sights and ensured she didn’t lose any ground. If anything, she gained a bit on Hall as the US athlete crossed the line in a championship best of 2:04.09 and Johnson-Thompson followed in a big PB of 2:05.63.

Within seconds, the result was confirmed: Johnson-Thompson had earned gold with 6740 and Hall took silver with 6720. Vetter, who clocked 2:20.49, claimed the bronze with 6501, just 22 points ahead of Hungary’s Xenia Krizsan (6479).

In a close contest where just 51 points separated bronze from sixth, Emma Oosterwegel was fifth (6464) and world indoor champion Noor Vidts was sixth (6450).

“This has been one of the most gruelling heptathlons I’ve ever done – the delayed start yesterday, the long day, then I got about three hours sleep last night,” said Johnson-Thompson. “I just knew I could prove to myself – and to all everyone else – that I could still do it.

“This is the culmination of so much hard work. I’m so happy, I’m crying. I can’t help it. Today I knew that if I believed in myself, I could do it. But it wasn’t easy.

“In the 800m I wasn’t thinking anything at all; I was just staring at the back of her (Anna Hall’s) legs, thinking ‘Don’t let her get away’. I was completely calm on the start line. I wasn’t nervous at all. I knew if I believed I could do it, I would. The last lap was amazing.

“I can’t take it in – it’s making me emotional,” she added. “The past few years have been so hard, but now it seems like it was all worth it. I’ve won medals before but this means so much.”

WOMEN’S HEPTATHLON MEDALLISTS
🥇 Katarina Johnson-Thompson 🇬🇧 GBR 6740 SB
🥈 Anna Hall 🇺🇸 USA 6720
🥉 Anouk Vetter 🇳🇱 NED 6501 SB
  Full results

Credit: Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics

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