It has been nine years in coming, but finally the talented all-rounder from the home of The Beatles has made it to No.1 spot in the world as a senior.
“It’s been a long old day, up and down, like it always is in combined events,” Katarina Johnson-Thompson reflected, after kicking to victory in the fifth and final event of the women’s pentathlon to secure her first senior combined events medal of any colour – and, to the delight of the packed crowd in Arena Birmingham, a first home gold of the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018.
There has been many a hard day and night for the 25-year-old from Liverpool since she made her first mark on the global track and field scene, taking heptathlon gold at the 2009 IAAF World U18 Championships.
In 2015 the Briton with the double-barrelled name looked poised to blast her way to global dominance after capturing the European indoor pentathlon crown in Prague with 5000 points, just 13 shy of Nataliya Dobrynska’s world record tally.
Then followed a depressing succession of downs: fouling out in the long jump when heading for a heptathlon medal at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, sixth in the Olympic heptathlon in Rio after a below-par shot, fifth place at last year’s World Championships in London after a poor high jump.
So there was a good deal of accumulated frustration to fuel Johnson-Thompson as she resisted a challenge from Austria’s Ivona Dadic down the back straight on the final lap of the 800m and switched into over-drive with a finishing kick reminiscent of Coe and Ovett, those British masters of the middle distances.
The 2012 world U20 long jump champion and 2014 world indoor long jump silver medallist could savour the luxury of a clear run in the home straight, crossing the line in 2:16.63 before collapsing to the track as the winning emotion swept over her.
Johnson-Thompson had gone into the 800m with a 33-point lead on Dadic and a 98-point advantage over third placed Yorgelis Rodriguez of Cuba and there was never any serious danger of either rival making up the ground on her. The gold was hers by a margin of 50 points, with a winning tally of 4750.
Rodriguez finished second in the race, clocking 2:17.70, with Dadic third in 2:17.82. In the overall standings, though, Dadic took silver with 4700 and Rodriguez bronze with 4637 – ahead of fourth-placed Eliska Klucinova of the Czech Republic (4579) and fifth-placed Erica Bougard of the US (4571).
For Dadic, the 24-year-old who took European heptathlon bronze outdoors in 2016, the silver matched Austria’s best performance in the championships. Klaus Bodenmuller finished runner up in the men’s shot in1991. Steffi Graf took second spot in the women’s 800m in 2001 and 2003.
Johnson-Thompson became the second Briton to claim the title, emulating her old rival Jessica Ennis-Hill’s victory in Doha in 2010. She did so with a steady if unspectacular set of performances – 8.36 in the 60m hurdles, 1.91m in the high jump, 12.68m in the shot put, 6.50m in the long jump and finally that 2:16.63 in the 800m.
Asked to pin-point the highlight, she replied: “The shot, surprisingly. It’s not my strongest event but I got an indoor PB.”
Reflecting on having finally scaled a global peak, some while after fellow 2009 world U18 winners Kirani James and Kevin Mayer, Johnson-Thompson reflected: “It’s been long time coming but finally I’m a senior world champion. I’m so happy.”
It was a not so happy time for former European indoor and outdoor champion Antoinette Nana-Djimou, who trains with world decathlon champion Mayer and Johnson-Thompson under the direction of French coach Bertrand Valcin in Montpellier. The 32-year-old Frenchwoman was lying seventh after the long jump but scratched from the 800m after a couple of laps, finishing 12th and last overall with 3705.
A distinguished seventh with 4466 was Alina Shukh. The 19-year-old had endured a nightmare 30-hour journey from Ukraine, ten of them stuck at Schipol Airport in the Netherlands.
Simon Turnbull for the IAAF