Katarina Johnson-Thompson endured a painful reality check in her first heptathlon since tore her calf at the Olympics last year. She ended the first day of the prestigious Hypomeeting with her knee badly bruised and her ambitions to defend her world title in July seriously dulled.
After four of seven events, Johnson-Thompson sits ninth with 3,695 points – 245 over a lead held by young Pole Adrianna Sulek, but broadly in line with her own expectations as she seeks to regain her peak form.
“It hurts when you’re here and the competition juice comes back,” she said. “It’s hard and frustrating not to be competitive, but I’ve accepted that I’m where I am right now.”
The good news at least is that Johnson-Thompson hasn’t shown any lingering signs of her calf injury that forced her off the track during the 200m in Tokyo or the severe Achilles fracture that threatened to end to his career in 2020.
But when asked if she could take any positives from day one, she was admirably candid. “You have to do it,” she said, smiling. “But you have to dig deep enough for them.”
Johnson-Thompson’s first event, the 100m hurdles, offered an ominous harbinger of what was to come. The 29-year-old’s personal best put her third out of 23 players, but she slowly slipped away and after overcoming three hurdles, she finished the last of her series in 13.80 seconds for a score of 1007 points.
That put her 13th and there was no consolation to be found in the high jump. At her best, Johnson-Thompson is world class and holds the British record with a leap of 1.98m. But after clearing 1.77m, she failed three times at a modest 1.80m for 914 points – although she looked unlucky on her first and third attempts.
“My knee is black and blue because I cleared about three obstacles, which is a shame as I felt in good shape for this event,” she said.
“The high jump was similar because I felt like I was springing back up in that leg. I just don’t really understand what messed up my three attempts.
As she headed into the shot put, she sought advice from former Olympic champion Denise Lewis, but there was even more frustration as she fouled her first throw after appearing to be close to his PB and had to settle for 12.87m and 719. points.
But she ended the day on a high in the 200m, finishing first in 23.51 seconds, earning her 1,028 points.
“In the shot put, I was really unlucky,” she said. “I was close to my PB. My left leg rolled over and I fouled in a freak accident and the last two I was a bit shy because I was afraid I might foul again. So it was boring but encouraging. It’s still a process. That’s where I am.
“The last time I ran the 200m was in Tokyo and I still have reservations. I exited quickly then went through the bend. Once I got around the turn I was fine and sprinted again.
“It’s just getting back into that kind of mentality, which is exactly why I had to come here. It was not planned at the beginning of the year but I have to qualify for the Commonwealth Games. I have to come here and put a score.
Another Briton, Holly Mills, finished the day in 10th place, four points behind Johnson-Thompson.
The performance of the day came in the men’s decathlon when Switzerland’s Simon Ehammer jumped an extraordinary 8.45m – a distance that would have won every individual Olympic long jump competition since 2004.
He leads the men’s event, ahead of Tokyo 2020 champion Damian Warner.