Athletics

Daley Thompson and Denise Lewis: Why Katarina Johnson-Thompson is now "Super Kat"

The two combined-event Olympic champions are backing Britain's Katarina Johnson-Thompson to shine at Tokyo 2020

By ZK Goh ·

The women's heptathlon continues to be one of the most fiercely-contested athletics events at the World Championships and Olympics, and the rivalry between Nafissatou Thiam and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, also known as KJT, shows few signs of slowing down.

The Olympic Channel Podcast presented by Bridgestone asked two-time Olympic decathlon champion Daley Thompson and Sydney 2000 heptathlon champion Denise Lewis for their predictions for Tokyo 2020, and both expect the intense competition for the top step of the podium to come down to Thiam and Johnson-Thompson once more.

Belgium's Thiam is the reigning Olympic champion from Rio 2016 while Great Britain's Johnson-Thompson won World Championships gold in 2019. And although Daley Thompson (no relation to KJT) and Lewis are both British, neither is writing off Thiam that easily next year either.

Bouncing back from setbacks

Johnson-Thompson's World Championships victory in Doha last October was the first time she had defeated Thiam in a major international heptathlon competition. Tokyo 2020 will be her third Olympic Games, after she finished 14th at London 2012 and an underwhelming sixth at Rio 2016.

However, since that setback in Brazil and a subsequent split with her first coach Mike Holmes, the Liverpudlian's stock has only risen.

She took pentathlon golds at the 2018 Indoor Worlds and 2019 Indoor Europeans, and heptathlon golds at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and last year's Worlds.

"KJT has proven that if you just put your head down, not necessarily take any notice of what the other people are saying, and just get on and do your work and make whatever changes you need to make, then you can be a success in the end," Daley Thompson told the Olympic Channel Podcast.

"She had to learn to deal with defeat and learn to have it so that people weren't necessarily always on her side, because the media started writing and saying, you know, she wasn't as good and all that kind of stuff. And I just think that she's done absolutely brilliant.

"The toughest thing is to suffer the setbacks and come back for more, which is why a lot of people can't do it," he said.

Lewis has also seen a marked improvement in Johnson-Thompson.

"Kat's grown so much," she said. "Daley will also tell you, we've sat time and time again watching her, but I like to think that's the old Kat.

"Now, there's a Super Kat in town, and I think she is poised and ready to to really be competitive."

Thiam's revenge?

Thiam took silver behind Johnson-Thompson in Doha last year while struggling with an elbow injury.

Lewis said that to write Thiam's chances off would be foolish. "Thiam is quite fearless. She's strong.

"She'll be determined because she has lost her world title to her arch rival, and she's got some skills.

"She has some serious skills in her back pocket. I think that the question for everyone is how well her elbow will have recovered that I think held her back at the last championships in Doha a little bit."

No outsiders likely

Will anyone else challenge the duopoly? Probably not, according to both Thompson and Lewis.

"I always hate to think that it's going to be a two-horse race, but I do think it's between Katarina and Nafi Thiam, the reigning Olympic champion," Lewis said.

"It's gonna be a fabulous competition. Be on the edge of your seat. And I think that the momentum is going to swing back and forth between the two women, right to the bitter end. I think they're both mentally ready for that challenge."

Thompson added: "If (Johnson-Thompson) can produce the performances that we know she can, then she has absolutely every opportunity to become Olympic champion.

"But with all that said, it's not going to be easy. Thiam is absolutely brilliant too. I'm hoping that both those girls are going to get to Tokyo in 100 percent fitness and 100 percent condition.

"It's going to be the best competition of everything at the Olympic Games."