Katarina Johnson-Thompson en route to the heptathlon title at the IAAF World Championships Doha 2019 (© Getty Images)
Katarina Johnson-Thompson exorcised her World Championship demons to dethrone Nafi Thiam and climb to sixth on the all-time lists with the biggest winning margin of victory at a World Championships for 32 years.
The British athlete, who no-marked in the long jump at the 2015 edition in Beijing and who underperformed to place fifth two years ago in London, was peerless across the seven disciplines, setting a British record of 6981pts and claiming PBs across four events to inflict Thiam’s first heptathlon defeat since May 2016.
Johnson-Thompson held a 96-point advantage from Thiam and we appeared poised for a classic head-to-head battle between the two finest multi-event exponents of their generation.
Opening with the long jump – on a day which very much showcased the multi-events - the “big two” looked distinctly unimpressed after relatively modest first round efforts of 6.25m and 6.32m.
The Belgian slightly improved to 6.35m with her second attempt but Johnson-Thompson dealt a huge uppercut to her gold medal rival by soaring out to 6.77m for 1095pts.
It was her finest ever jump in a heptathlon and in the context of the seven-discipline war of attrition - a pivotal moment.
In round three, Thiam clawed back some extra points with a 6.40m (975pts) jump – but not what she desired. The Briton finished with a red flag but thanks to her mighty second jump (within 16cm of her lifetime best) she had cracked open a 216pt lead as 5233pts plays 5017pts
In the congested battle for bronze Kendell Williams survived a wobble with fouls in the first two rounds to break the sand at 6.28m in the third round to take her overall tally to 4792pts. Just nine points adrift Austria’s Verena Preiner bounced two places up the overall standings thanks to a personal best of 6.36m. Erica Bougard sat fifth on 4768pts after a 6.21m jump.
Gold for Johnson-Thompson was all but assured in the javelin. The British athlete opened with a highly satisfactory 42.21m before adding 1.01m on to her lifetime best with a second round 43.93m.
Thiam, meanwhile, throwing with heavy strapping on her right elbow, never looked totally comfortable. She followed a first round foul with a 48.04m throw – which was still more than 11 metres down her PB. Clearly struggling she passed her final attempt.
In the battle for bronze, Preiner nudged up to third with a 46.68m effort, giving the Austrian a slender 21pt lead on Williams, her nearest pursuer.
Leading into the 800m - Johnson-Thompson had one hand on gold holding a comfortable 137pt advantage on the Belgian – which equates to around nine seconds.
More realistically the 800m was all about whether the Briton could better Jessica Ennis-Hill’s British record of 6955pts with a time of around 2:09 required, or even potentially running a 2:06 which would enable the world indoor pentathlon champion to bust through the magical 7000pts barrier.
Johnson-Thompson went out sensibly preferring Preiner, who herself was gunning for bronze, to lead followed by Williams with the Briton sat third.
Down the home stretch Johnson-Thompson veered out to lane two forged ahead to the front and took the bell in a time of 63.14 – on track to achieve her twin targets.
For the remainder of the race, Johnson-Thompson slowly extended her advantage on the field and pushed on down the home straight to the roars of the hugely appreciative fans and sizeable British contingent.
Crossing the line in 2:07.27 for a 0.37 personal best she added 1005pts to her score to erase Ennis Hill’s seven-year-old British record figures before, overcome with emotion, she burst into tears.
Thiam bravely completed the task in a season’s best 2:18.93 for 838pts and a final total of 6677pts – 304pts down on the gold medallist. Bronze went the way of Preiner, who ran a gusty 2:08.88 (981pts), with a seven-discipline total of 6560pts.
Propelled by two huge personal best performances, Katarina Johnson-Thompson holds a handy 96-point advantage over her Belgian rival Nafi Thiam after executing the fourth-best first-day heptathlon total in history.
Johnson-Thompson started her quest for gold with a stylish performance in the 100m hurdles. Hacking 0.20 from her previous lifetime best, she crossed the line first in heat two in 13.09 to sit fifth overall.
In that same heat, Thiam produced a solid effort, clocking 13.36 to equal her season’s best sit 10th after the first event.
The star of the 100m hurdles was unquestionably Kendell Williams of the USA. Competing in heat three the 24-year-old blitzed to a sensational championship heptathlon best of 12.58 – within just 0.04 of Jessica Ennis-Hill’s world heptathlon best. Williams, the 2014 world U20 100m hurdles champion, obliterated her PB by 0.24 to sit pretty at the top of the leaderboard.
As a measure of the quality of her display, the 12.58 clocking was faster than the winning time in the women’s 100m hurdles final at the 2017 World Championships in London.
Solene Ndama of France, after a 12.90 time, and Odile Ahouanwanou of Benin, who clocked 13.07, occupied the other top three positions.
There was a noteworthy performance in heat three by Marthe Koala, who set a Burkinabe record of 13.05 to sit fourth overall.
While Johnson-Thompson toasted a turbo-charged opening to her heptathlon, there was heartbreak for world indoor pentathlon silver medallist Ivona Dadic in the same heat. The Austrian suffered a mid-race mishap, failed to complete the race and quit the competition in tears.
Johnson-Thompson retained her 40-point advantage over Thiam as the pair dominated a high-class high jump, both equalling the championship heptathlon best of 1.95m.
Boasting world-class PBs of 2.02m (Thiam) and 1.98m (Johnson-Thompson), the 'big two' were expected to dominate but the Briton will be delighted to have kept the world, Olympic and European champion at arm’s length.
Both athletes suffered the odd blip but successfully navigated a route through to 1.92m. The 1.84m tall Thiam then squeezed on the pressure with an emphatic first-time clearance at 1.92m. However, Johnson-Thompson responded and gave a fist pump of satisfaction following a successful second-time clearance at the height.
Operating a much shorter run up than the languid Thiam, the Briton then struck the first blow at 1.95m, soaring over the bar with her first attempt. Thiam hit back with a second-time clearance – as both matched the championship heptathlon best height which Thiam, Yorgelis Rodriguez and Carolina Kluft have all previously cleared.
Thiam probably mustered the better efforts at 1.98m but the height was beyond the lead duo as Johnson-Thompson ended the event in first overall from Thiam in second.
US champion Erica Bougard loomed into contention after a quality second-time clearance at 1.86m to haul herself up into third overall.
Williams could not follow up her blistering hurdles performance on the high jump apron. The US athlete achieved a best of 1.77m – some 11 centimetres shy of her best to slip down to fourth overall.
Given Thiam’s formidable shot PB of 15.52m compared to Johnson-Thompson’s best of 13.15m, the Belgian always expected to assume control of the overall standings after the third discipline; the question was by how much?
In round one Thiam gave a clear demonstration of her intentions, launching the metal orb out to 15.22m while her rival and world indoor pentathlon champion could only register 12.33m.
In round two the Briton improved – but only by five centimetres to 12.38m – and exited the shot circle shaking her head in frustration. Thiam, an elegant shot exponent, could not improve on her excellent first-round effort with 14.52m in the second stanza.
However, Johnson-Thompson produced what could prove a pivotal moment in this heavyweight combined events showdown by smashing the shot out to a huge PB in round three of 13.86m. When confirmation was received of the distance, she jumped up and down in jubilation as she celebrated the significance of the put. Thiam heaved the shot to 15.08m in the final round but no improvement.
Thiam now had overall leadership, but the Briton was sat just 51 points adrift – a much better scenario than it could have been before that blockbuster final effort.
The big mover was 2014 world indoor pentathlon champion Nadine Broersen, who advanced from seventh overall to third with a 14.75m hurl. The third-round toss came within one centimetre of the Dutch athlete’s season’s best.
Bougard was some way short of her shot best with a modest best of 12.36m as she slipped to fourth overall. Williams also fell back in the overall standings to fifth after a below-par 12.71m.
Going in the first of three 200m heats, Thiam claimed the win in a solid 24.60 – 0.24 down on her lifetime best. She came off the curve with a clear advantage and maintained her lead to the line, although she appeared to be blowing heavily at the end of a gruelling first day in which she accumulated 4042 points.
Running in the third and final heat, Johnson-Thompson also produced a solid effort; winning the race in 23.08 (1.0m/s) – the joint sixth best performance of her career over the distance. It brought the Briton's four-event total to 4138.
Only Jackie Joyner-Kersee (4367), Carolina Kluft (4162) and Jessica Ennis-Hill (4158) have ever accrued a higher points total at this stage of a heptathlon.
The US trio of Kendell Williams (3855), Erica Bougard (3853) and Annie Kunz (3840) are separated by just 15 points from third down to fifth. Williams was the swiftest of the three in the 200m, clocking 23.62 for the second quickest overall time. Bougard (23.89) and Kunz (24.27) are also well in contention leading into day two on Thursday.
An elated Johnson-Thompson said: “I am really happy about my performance. I am where I need to be. Gold – why not? I am in the shape and position to do it but you never know what can happen on day two.”
Thiam was satisfied with her efforts. “It was a good first day, I did not make any mistakes. The hurdles were good, the shot was good, the 200m and the high jump was a good result. I am not trying to pay too much attention on the duel with Katarina. I just want to concentrate on what I am doing.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF