The first step in bringing Katarina Johnson-Thompson back to her best was to get the smile back on her face. It stayed there despite her being edged out of first place in the long jump at the British indoor trials in Sheffield yesterday, so maybe her move to France is proving a success.
This was the first time she had competed since the Rio Olympics, where she turned up with dreams of gold and ended up miserable in sixth place. It marked the end of her relationship with Mike Holmes, her long-time coach, and a move away from Liverpool to the south of France, where she is being coached by Bertrand Valcin.
She arrived in Sheffield fresh from her first warm-weather training camp in Stellenbosch, South Africa. It took a final leap of 6.72m by Lorraine Ugen to deny her victory in the long jump — with Jazmin Sawyers third with 6.54m. Johnson-Thompson won her semi- final of the 60m hurdles in 8.42sec but decided not to take her place in the final.
“I sort of didn’t enjoy anything over the last two years,” she said. “I was going down that path where I wasn’t enjoying it and you could see it in my performances. I think being in one piece has got something to do with it. I’m not injured, I’m out there and enjoying it and not worrying about any of my body falling apart.
“I set high expectations for myself and when I didn’t reach those expectations it was hard for me to face. With the heptathlon, just because you can do a 1.98m high jump it doesn’t mean that you are going to win the gold medal. You can see glimpses of good performances, but I could never get them all together. That’s why I was so gutted with fifth places and sixth places.”
Valcin will be principal coach at her new base in Montpellier, with Jean- Yves Cochand concentrating on improving her performances in the throwing events and Bruno Gajer her running coach.
“It’s important she enjoys it,” Valcin said. “I have known her for a long time and she always [appears] droopy, so I would like her to have a good smile. It’s a very good start.
“There is no limit to her potential so I won’t put limits on it. She’s an amazing athlete with a very good work ethic and with a smile like that we can have a very good progression.”
Johnson-Thompson will not defend her pentathlon title at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade next month but she plans to compete there in the long jump. Expectations will be high for the World Championships in London this summer but she is not thinking about that yet. “I don’t think that far ahead these days, I’m just trying to concentrate on each event,” she said. “I probably just build them up too much in my head.”
Robbie Grabarz had to settle for second place in the high jump behind Allan Smith — with the pair and Chris Kandu all clearing 2.25m — although that he was jumping at all was remarkable, having suffered a ruptured appendix only five weeks before. “I’m not quite right but not far off it,” Grabarz said. “I’ll take the appendix over another knee injury.”
Grabarz, who intends to compete in Belgrade, said that the problem came on suddenly. He woke with agonising stomach pain and drove himself to hospital.
Number of world long jump medals Johnson-Thompson has won (silver at the world indoors in 2014 and gold at the world juniors in 2012), twice as many as she’s won in the heptathlon (gold in the world youth championships 2009)
“Being 2am on a Saturday you can imagine what A&E was like,” he said. “I was there for about two hours, saw a nurse and then it was going to be a few hours for a doctor because it was so busy. I came back the next day, they told me I had ruptured my appendix and needed surgery that evening.”
CJ Ujah looks likely to miss out on a place in the 60m in Belgrade, despite running the fastest British time this year, after he chose to run in Poland on Friday instead of at the trials.
Andrew Robertson and Theo Etienne collected the two automatic places for Belgrade at the trials after Richard Kilty was disqualified for his fifth false start in a little over two years. It is likely, however, that Kilty will be chosen for the third place ahead of the absent Ujah.