Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s coach has revealed the brutal training sessions – and mind games – that occasionally made her sick but turned her into a heptathlon world‑beater again.
Most people had written off the 2019 world champion after serious achilles tendon and calf injuries in 2020 and 2021, while Johnson‑Thompson also feared she was destined to fade into irrelevance after being way off the pace last year. However, the 67‑year‑old veteran Aston Moore had other ideas.
Moore, who guided Phillips Idowu and Ashia Hansen to world titles, quickly diagnosed that the 30-year-old was not fit enough when he began training her a year ago. And it was a series of weekly 800m sessions in Loughborough that proved to be the difference in Budapest.
“It was reasonably clear what was wrong,” Moore said. “Basically we had an athlete who didn’t have any petrol in the tank. I felt as soon as we could put some of that back in there – through hard work – she could get back.”
Going into the 800m, Johnson‑Thompson had to stay within three seconds of the American superstar Anna Hall to clinch gold. But while Hall’s personal best was nearly five seconds faster, Moore was not unduly worried.
“We did a lot of work in preparation. A Wednesday at Loughborough was always a day of trepidation because there was going to be a lot of pain on the track because of the work for the 800 metres. She did that all winter, up until about two weeks ago so there was no danger she was going to die. It was just a question of sticking with the job, which she did.”
Speaking on Monday evening after having just one hour’s sleep, Johnson‑Thompson said the sessions had sometimes made her throw up on the track but also made her battle-hardened.
“Those 800 sessions hurt,” she said. “I feel like a lot of my training is technical but with the 800m you physically have to push through the pain barrier.
“I’m more of a lactic person. So I love running fast and then having a load of the rest. But your weaknesses are something that you need to work on. It was just a lot of aerobic stuff where you have a short rest and go again; short rest, go again.”
It proved to be the difference as Johnson-Thompson shattered her personal best by two seconds in running 2min 05sec – just a second and a half behind Hall. “We were ready for that battle,” she said. “I didn’t think I could run that time. I’m not going to lie. But I hate the feeling of not being ready to fight.”
Johnson-Thompson also praised the psychological work that Moore had done to calm her nerves. “He’s sorted out those issues, in terms of fears, and he’ll just take away those anxieties,” she said. “I don’t know what it is. Just that experience, a level head.”
Moore, who won two triple‑jump bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games in 1978 and 1982, said that decades of experience had proved crucial. “Coaching is always a bit of psychology,” he said. “Sometimes athletes will doubt themselves. But from time to time you have to say these are the results you are getting in training, believe it’s possible to get back.
“It’s been a tough journey for her. Not many come back from an achilles rupture to win a world championship, and a lot of people probably thought it wasn’t possible to come back. She’s proved them wrong.”
Johnson-Thompson is confident that she can score even higher at the Paris Olympics next year, even if she concedes she does not have quite the spring in her legs that enabled her to clear 1.98m in the high jump at the 2016 Rio Olympics – but “never say never”, she says, adding: “I would like to get back into the 1.90s and 6.80s in the long jump.”
However Moore believes there is no reason why Johnson‑Thompson can’t push on and emulate her success in Paris – even if it means facing Nafi Thiam, the double Olympic champion who was missing in Budapest with injury.
“Kat is back to where she’s hunting for something,” Moore says. “She’s not a spectator. Last year she was in a really bad place for her, where she was just looking at other people picking up medals. This time she was actually hunting for one. That changes your psyche.”
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