‘People will miss golds because of Covid’


Katarina Johnson-Thompson: “I was surprised that a number of sports featured only white competitors”

World heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson says Olympic success this summer will be determined by who has coped best with the pandemic.

Covid-19 has severely affected athletes’ preparations for Tokyo 2020, which is finally due to take place in July, having been postponed last year.

The Briton said there would be gold-medal prospects who would fall short.

“All I can do is make sure I have the best prep,” the 28-year-old told BBC Breakfast’s Sally Nugent.

The Liverpool athlete had been in superb form as she built up to what should have been the start of the Games last July.

In 2018 she followed up winning the World Indoor pentathlon title with heptathlon gold in the Commonwealth Games and silver behind Olympic champion Nafissatou Thiam at the European Championships.

More pentathlon success followed at the European Indoors in 2019 before she finally landed the a global heptathlon title at the World Championships, getting the better of Belgian arch-rival Thiam in a memorable competition in Doha.

“I thought I was ready to peak more going into Tokyo – that was always the plan,” said Johnson-Thompson. “The timing was perfect. It just got halted, but that’s life.

“The Olympics will be won and lost on whoever has handled the pandemic the best. There are going to be so many people who would have been champion but who aren’t going to be because of the pandemic. I find that fascinating.”

‘Some of the things said are getting worse’

Johnson-Thompson keeps her thousands of followers on social media updated with her progress. However, with the benefits of the medium come the negative aspects, highlighted recently by multiple reports of online abuse of sports stars.

“I’ve seen a lot in football and it’s disgusting,” she said.

“Some of the things said are getting worse and I believe that’s because you have direct contact with whoever you’re trying to abuse.

“Sometimes people look at social media and think you’ve got the perfect life, but it’s literally just the highlights. The more people understand about mental health, the more social media will be better.”

Following the postponement of Tokyo 2020 last summer, Johnson-Thompson set up an academy to provide opportunities for state-schooled athletes from ethnic minority communities.

“You think the Olympics is diverse, but I was surprised that a number of sports featured all white competitors,” she said. “I think there are people out there who could be in an Olympic team and could be winning a medal, but just haven’t had the right support along the way.”

Johnson-Thompson said she had been affected by prejudice in the past.

“I don’t think anyone has purposefully gone out of their way to be nasty,” she said. “It’s affected me in so many ways, regarding my self-worth, the way I grew up wanting to look a certain way… I felt like I had to change my hair and present it a certain way.

“When I look back, I changed things to try to blend in.”

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