Will Katarina Johnson-Thompson or Jessica Ennis-Hill be Queen of Rio?
- Jessica Ennis-Hill tipped Katarina Johnson-Thompson to be better than her 'one day' after watching her race in the Czech Republic in June 2012
- Both women have had their own issues to overcome since London 2012
- Johnson-Thompson has been called a 'beast' due to the weight she can lift
- The two women are part of a field that could have a number of winners
In June 2012 a 19-year-old Katarina Johnson-Thompson scored a huge lifetime best in the heptathlon at a low-key meeting in Kladno in the Czech Republic to unexpectedly qualify for the London Olympics.
Athletics fans had been chattering about the Liverpudlian, already world youth champion, for some time and Jessica Ennis-Hill was asked for her thoughts on the youngster.
‘I’m sure she’ll be better than me one day,’ she admitted. ‘She beat my junior record. She’s a tall, strong girl and her scores in her individual events are looking really good. In the next couple of years that’s when she’ll start getting closer and closer to me — and then I’ll probably retire.’
Katarina Johnson-Thompson surprisingly qualified for London after a win in June 2012
Jessica Ennis-Hill suggested that Johnson-Thompson would be better than her one day
It was, at least partly, prophetic. Johnson-Thompson finished 15th at London 2012 and, as Ennis-Hill did her victory lap, promised it would be her doing likewise one day. She finished fifth at the World Championships in Moscow in 2013, aged 20 and last year broke Ennis-Hill’s British record in the pentathlon to win European Indoor Championships gold.
But Ennis-Hill did not retire. Instead, she stamped her authority on the event once again by winning World Championships gold in Beijing last year. Despite younger rivals knocking on the door, Ennis-Hill goes into the Rio Olympics as favourite but Johnson-Thompson is poised to push her all the way. ‘I never thought our careers would cross paths at the top,’ says Johnson-Thompson. ‘I thought she’d be retired, but I’ve improved quickly too.’
Both women have had their own obstacles to overcome over the four-year Olympic cycle. Ennis-Hill’s have derived from a happy place, the birth of her first child Reggie in July 2014.
Both women have had obstacles to overcome since the last Olympic Games in London
For Ennis-Hill (right) it was from a happy place, the birth of her son Reggie in July 2014
For months afterwards she was unable to lift objects above her head and her early foray back into sport involved sessions on a watt bike in her garage between nursing sessions. ‘For someone used to elite sport it isn’t the same sort of sweat,’ said her coach Toni Minichiello, ‘so it was frustrating for Jess.
‘When she came back she’d lost a lot of the elasticity in her legs so we had to work around that.’
The training plan put together by Minichiello has been adjusted not only to address her changing physicality as she gets older but to allow her to spend as much time as possible with Reggie.
Elite athlete Ennis-Hill was unable to lift objects over her head after giving birth to Reggie and was only able to exercise between nursing sessions on a watt bike in her garage
‘We went from training for 30 hours pre-pregnancy to 22 afterwards,’ said Minichiello. ‘You can’t keep adding load after load after load to an individual. Once you pass 25 you’re not as resilient so you have to get smarter in your training. I think too many coaches I see in athletics cannot adapt their training when the athlete is tired or injured.’
Johnson-Thompson, 23, knows all too well the toll injury can take on a burgeoning career. A foot injury, knee injury and torn adductor over the past two years have seriously hampered her progress, meaning she is ranked only 17th in the world in the heptathlon this year. But her individual scores combined would put her much higher and two season’s bests in the long jump and high jump at last month’s Anniversary Games suggest she is coming back into form.
Like Ennis-Hill, 30, who has been coached by Minichiello for 17 years, the relationship between Johnson-Thompson and her coach Mike Holmes dates back to childhood. Despite the best attempts of her mum Tracey, a former Moulin Rouge showgirl, to entice her into dance, Johnson-Thompson was a tomboy, most of her friends were boys and the Liverpool FC strip became a uniform of sorts.
Johnson-Thompson was a tomboy growing up and regularly wore a Liverpool strip
She joined the Liverpool Harriers club while at school and works out at a strength and conditioning gym in the city. Holmes, a former national level weightlifter, said you would not believe the size of the weights Johnson-Thompson lifts in the gym.
‘She’s a beast,’ he said, ‘that’s our secret, all the work she does in the gym. I thought she couldn’t get any stronger but she keeps on surprising me. It’s a proper gym we go to, there’s a few criminals,’ Holmes added. ‘It’s useful because she got her keys locked in her car one time, called one of them out of the gym and within a few seconds he had picked the lock.’
If both Ennis-Hill and Johnson-Thompson achieve their potential we could see a British race for top honours but Minichiello doubts it will be as straightforward as that.
‘Since 2013 it’s been the tightest compression of athletes,’ he said. ‘There aren’t the standout individuals, a person who’s definitely going to smash you. There’s the Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton who has the world leading score, the Latvian Laura Ikauniece-Admidina who I think will surprise a few people and the Netherlands’ Anouk Vetter to mention just a few. There are probably about eight in with a shout. It will definitely be exciting.’
Ennis-Hill and Johnson-Thompson are in the mix to win gold with a number of athletes
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/othersports/article-3720563/Will-Katarina-Johnson-Thompson-Jessica-Ennis-Hill-Queen-Rio.html#ixzz4GacDvJrL
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