Doha 2019: Katarina Johnson-Thompson defeats Nafi Thiam for heptathlon glory


Pull up a chair, there's a new diner at the table of British multi-eventing greats. 

Finishing victorious in her 800 metres, Katarina Johnson-Thompson simply collapsed on to her back and exhaled all the stresses of 2019 in one breath - she was the world heptathlon champion.

With an eye-watering score of 6,981 points, slaying the national record of Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, the 26-year-old joined Dina Asher-Smith in a burgeoning British pantheon on Qatari shores.

The Liverpudlian will be the first person to admit that the World Championships have been an unhappy hunting ground, strewn with disappointments and wobbles under pressure.

But none of that was present in Doha, not one single bead of anxiety, not one sign of stress.

Breakthrough for Johnson-Thompson

Johnson-Thompson didn't just become heptathlon world champion, she deposed one of the greatest female athletes the sport has ever seen - Nafissatou Thiam, who never looked like catching her.

Even in the first event, there was a wide smile across Johnson-Thompson's face, clocking a massive personal best in the 100m hurdles that even she didn't expect.

When that was proceeded by a championship heptathlon record in the high jump, a whopping life-time best in the shot put and a season's best over 200m, you got the feeling that the Brit was unaware of her own brilliance.

17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 - Day Seven

Redemption and vindication for KJT

Thiam was left chasing overnight and while she reasserted her dominance over the javelin, the Belgian couldn't do enough to pull away and suffered a handy defeat in the long jump.

It was as if the javelin that Johnson-Thompson launched to 43.93 metres had gone straight through Thiam's moral on route. The 800 metres became a formality and one she completed with victory.

In claiming gold, there was a real sense that Johnson-Thompson had finally shaken off the demons of the past and she reflected on those darker days with a new perspective in the mixed zone.

The British superstar explained: "The last two World Championships, I went back to the hotel mid-heptathlon and cried and cried and cried for hours when things went wrong.

"It was after the high jump at London 2017 and the long jump at Beijing 2015, they were the lowest moments in my career and Rio as well. I've had a lot of bad years. I'm just so happy tonight, I've changed everything."


On topping Ennis-Hill's record

I then asked her about breaking Ennis-Hill's record. Johnson-Thompson had, after all, witnessed her compatriot post that 6,981 in person at London 2012 and could never have known that she would one day better it.

"That's a moment that's stuck with me forever," the world champion reflected with fondness. "I was in the heat before her and then on the sidelines, just watching.

"I was crying on the track and I have that vision of her crossing the line. I've got that with my own eyes from about 10 metres away. I did the victory lap and it was obviously a bit different!"

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Naser becomes third fastest in history

However, Johnson-Thompson wasn't the only athlete making history on day seven and Bahrain's Salwa Eid Naser left the Khalifa International Stadium in a collective state of shock.

Attacking the first three-quarters of the 400m final at an incomparable speed, it seemed certain that she would implode down the home straight and allow Shaunae Miller-Uibo to reel her in for gold.

But Naser just never stopped. Finishing as strongly as she started, the Diamond League champion sent social media into meltdown when 48.14 seconds - yes, really - illuminated the Seiko clock.

Astonishingly, that moved her to third in the all-time list, lodging the strongest assault in decades on Marita Koch's long-standing and controversial word record from the 1980s.

17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 - Day Seven

Naser still in disbelief about 48.14

Only the East German and Jarmila Kratochvilova have ever covered a lap quicker, while Miller-Uibo astonishingly moved up to sixth on the list with an equally mind-blowing 48.37 seconds.

"I still can't believe the time," Naser said halfway between a smile and laugh. "The time is so crazy. Crossing the line and seeing that time come up, I went absolutely crazy!

"Yes, I was training so hard, but I never expected to run so fast.

"I think she's [Miller-Uibo] is an amazing athlete. I couldn't have done that alone and without her pushing me all the way. I love her energy and I've already said thank you to her, because I don't think I would have gone that fast."

17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 - Day Seven

Decathlon title changes hands

There was a new claimant to the title of 'world's greatest athlete' as Germany's Niklas Kaul claimed the decathlon title with 8,691 points, shattering the European U23 record.

At the age of just 21, Kaul overhauled the Canadian day-one leaders of Damian Warner and Pierce LePage and rounded off his victory with a 4:15.17 clocking in the 1,500m.

However, the German did so in the absence of 2017 champion and world-record holder Kevin Mayer, who was forced to retire through injury after two failed attempts in the pole vault.


Muir poised for 1,500m medal

There were no mistakes from Laura Muir as she ticked the last box before an assault on the 1,500m title, successfully navigating her semi-final in third place and with a time of 4:01.05.

And the Scotswoman admitted that the successes of Asher-Smith and Johnson-Thompson were most certainly spurring her on, telling the British media: "Those two have done so, so well.

"You know, for Dina to win two World medals and break two British records and Kat has got the gold set, it's fantastic to see. It really lifts the morale of the whole team and is amazing for both of them."

Sadly, Sarah McDonald won't be joining her compatriot in the final, falling victim to an incredibly slow and tactical race which Sifan Hassan eventually won with an indomitable final lap.


Gong makes shot-putting history

Gong Lijiao was crowned the World Championship's most successful ever female shot-putter, retaining her global title with a fourth-round throw of 19.55 metres.

There was a valiant challenge from Danniel Thomas-Dodd in the silver medal position, teeing up a nerve-wracking finish when she threw 19.47 metres at the death.

Meanwhile, Sophie McKinna can hold her head up high after finishing in 11th position, but admitted she was feeling 'drained from yesterday', when she launched a Tokyo-worthy personal best.


Rounding up the remaining action

Orlando Ortega was retrospectively awarded a bronze medal for yesterday's 110m hurdles final after Team Spain lodged a successful appeal, citing a clear obstruction from Omar McLeod.

There were no mistakes from the biggest names in the shot put as reigning champion Tom Walsh and world-leader Ryan Crouser won their qualifying groups in 21.92 and 21.67 metres respectively. 

Yulimar Rojas began the defence of her World title by advancing to the triple jump final - posting 14.31 metres - while Shanieka Ricketts and Caterine Ibarguen shone brightest in the prior group.

17th IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 - Day Seven

KJT on top of the world

It's another night and another gold, leaving British athletics to swing a massive fist pump ahead of Tokyo 2020 and who knows: perhaps Thiam's Olympic title will bob its way across the Channel too?

Johnson-Thompson has long since been a role model in British sports and she could have retired happy with gold medals at the European and World Indoors as well as the Commonwealth Games. 

But the 26-year-old has proven she's more than that, she's a world champion. The best in the business.

That golden climax to her 800m saw her running in the spike marks of Ennis-Hill and Denise Lewis, long laid down but almost never retraced. Kat, you're one of the immortals now.

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