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Katarina Johnson-Thompson: If I can just step off the track and think I could not have done any more, then I will be happy

Liz Connor speaks to Liverpudlian track and field athlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson about training, focus and coping with nerves

So focused: Katarina Johnson-Thompson on the track earlier this year
So focused: Katarina Johnson-Thompson on the track earlier this year
Aim high: Katarina competing

By Liz Connor

With a track record that just keeps getting better, and Jessica Ennis-Hill cheerleading her success from the sidelines, Katarina Johnson-Thompson is one of Team GB's best hopes at winning gold at next year's Tokyo Olympics.

The 26-year-old track and field athlete, from Liverpool, has had some impressive wins over the past few years, including gold in the heptathlon at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, before going on to take a silver medal at the European Championships that same year.

With her confidence boosted, she also recorded a new PB at Gotzis in May, pushing her up the global rankings - and putting pressure on Belgium world champ Nafissatou Thiam ahead of the 2020 Games.

In person, she's incredibly humble about her achievements. Softly spoken and thoughtful, she could even be mistaken for shy - but get her talking about competing and there's a quiet confidence that she'll get the job done come Tokyo.

Currently, Johnson-Thompson lives in the south of France, where she trains, and she's been dating fellow athlete, Andrew Pozzi, since last year.

We caught up with her to find out more about her daily training routine, how she deals with nerves, and her approach to prepping for the competition of a lifetime...

How does it feel to have recorded a new personal best time at Gotzis?

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"It's just boosted my confidence enormously - getting to over 6,800 points has been a goal of mine for ages.

"I'm happy with what I was doing last year - scoring and winning championships - but now I can win my competitions with very good scores. Hopefully this is the start of something."

What's your training routine like at the moment?

"At the minute, I've got some time off because of the World Championships, but I go back on Monday and that will be two times per day, except Sundays.

"We have to do seven different events, which involves seven different technical sessions for each (100m, high jump, shot-put, 200m, long jump, javelin throw and 800m). Then we have to do lots of power work and strength in the gym from winter to summer, and sprint and aerobic training for running."

How do you like to chill on your days off?

"Sundays are great, but everything's shut in France, so I just end up chilling out and watching Netflix. I could watch millions of episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race. I'm starting to read, and I should probably learn French, too..."

How do you stay injury-free?

"I've had loads of injuries in the past and I've learned that there's not anything particular you can do really. It's all about being honest with yourself, and if you're feeling a twinge that day, you feel tired, or your back is hurting, you have to tell your coach. Because if you try and continue with it, you'll just make it worse.

"I've found out in the past that if you miss one training session, that's better than missing one month. Rest and recovery is so important."

How do you deal with nerves when you're competing?

"It's very easy now to stay composed and not think about nerves. I think I get nervous in the lead up to the competition - you start to worry about your form. On the day, though, it's absolutely fine. You just don't think about any of (the worries) and you have to concentrate on what you're doing.

"When I look back on my 19-year-old self at the 2012 Olympics, which was my first senior international in front of 80,000 people, I get nervous watching it. But at the time, I was fine."

Do you have any pre-event rituals to get you in the zone?

"I like to listen to music, tracks that I know all the words to so I can just not think about anything else. It's great for blocking out all that background chatter - like people on the coach or around me when I'm warming up. At the moment, I love listening to Little Simz."

What's a typical day's food for you?

"I like to do everything in moderation. I have the same meal every night, but I'll mix up breakfast and lunch. Sometimes I'll have yoghurt, granola and fruit, and sometimes I'll have porridge and a shake.

"I like to eat eggs at lunch, as well as chicken sandwiches or wraps.

"We're not training too much at the moment, so it's fine to have a little bit of chocolate cake or other guilty pleasures. You can't deprive yourself too much!"

Is it difficult to have a normal social life around training?

"I find it harder now that I live in France. I don't see my friends or my family back at home in Liverpool and I hardly see my boyfriend - I really miss home when I'm away.

"Then when I do socialise, it's all in French.

"So it's difficult, but it's easy in this day and age to keep in touch on WhatsApp and FaceTime."

One thing you always make time for is heading to the QIPCO British Champions Series, are you looking forward to this year's event?

"Yeah, it's the third time I've been and it's just a great way to wind-down after the season. I'm a big fan of all sports and I just love to watch people competing at the top of their game."

What do you think you would have done with your life if you weren't an athlete?

"It's hard to say because it's been such a long time. I started doing this as a hobby in Year 7. So when I was doing my GCSEs and everyone was planning their careers, I knew I always wanted to get into athletics.

"I'm into interior design though. I don't want to say that, because you need actual degrees to do it professionally, but I've bought my own place in Liverpool and it's a doer-upper."

How are you feeling about the Tokyo Olympics?

"It's been my goal since 2016, and everything I do is building towards it. I'm just hoping I can progress there. I'd be happy to just come away with a medal, though. In 2016, I just wanted gold, but now looking back, I'd have been happy with a gold, silver or bronze [she placed sixth at the Rio Games]. I'm not going to make that mistake again.

"If I can just step off the track and think, 'I couldn't have done any more', then I'll be happy."

Katarina Johnson-Thompson is an ambassador for QIPCO British Champions Series, which showcases the finest flat racing. For more information, see britishchampionsseries.com

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