Katerina Johnson-Thompson, less than one second from WR, takes Euro Indoor pentathlon, by Larry Eder

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Katerina Johnson-Thompson, photo by Getty Images for European Athletics


The late, great Czech sportsmen, Emil Zatopek once told me the story about his time coaching. He smiled, when he told the story. "It was very hard to coach. I found it easier to compete. Top athletes make terrible coaches.  " 

Zatopek, aka "the Czech Lokomotiv", was correct. 

As a former athlete and coach, I find that those experiences assist me in my writing as I try to convey the beauty and pathos of our sport. As someone who can say that he has been lapped by more elite runners than most care to know, I also appreciate the effort behind the race. 

Never was my emotions more challenged than in watching the performances of Katerina Johnson-Thompson on Friday, March 6, 2015. 
I met my first multi-eventer in 1975 or 1976, at San Jose City College. As a junior in high school, I would run by San Jose CC a couple of times a day on our runs from Bellarmine Prep. We would stop by the track and check out the college athletes. 

There was this guy we would see every day. He would be throwing the javelin or discus in the mornings. And in the evenings, he would be still out there, jumping or throwing, or running. I recall asking him what he did on one of those warm, sunny days that make San Jose the perfect track haven in the late spring. Bruce Jenner was quite nice to us, especially when I asked him what he was doing? He told me that he was a decathlete. I knew something about the decathlon then, enough to know that I was meeting a real athlete. That real athlete would go on to win the 1976 Montreal Olympics. 

Multi-eventers are a breed apart. 

In the UK, fans are spoiled. A plethora of fine multi event women exist now. With Jessica Ennis-Hill, 2012 Olympic champion, Morgan Lake, the World Junior Champion, and Katerina Johnson-Thompson, GBR has, in fact the best women athletes in your land competing in athletics. On the men's side, decathletes are rarer than Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, on a good hair day. Since Daley Thompson, your only true talent has been Dean Macy. Just think, if a male athlete the likes of David Beckham competed in the decathlon in GBR. Such a talent, with the right coaching would be a rock star. 

Well, you have a new rock star, and multi-event star, and that, dear readers, is Katerina Johnson-Thompson. 

On Friday, March 6, 2015, Katerina Johnson-Thompson scored 5,000 points in the indoor pentathlon, just 12-13 points shy of a new World record. That she did not break the WR was, in my belief, out of her hands. The final event, the 800 meters, was moved up by one hour on the schedule, giving the pentathletes one less hour to recover from their morning and afternoons of hurdling, high jumping, shot putting, long jumping and finally, running an 800 meters. 

Katerina Johnson-Thompson started the day off well, hurdling 8.18, her PB for a pentathlon compeititon. In her second event, the high jump, KJT cleared 1.95 meters, a championships record and KJT's best performance while in a pentathlon. 

For Johnson-Thompson, her achilles heel is the shot put. Her 12.32m throw was 1.5 meters behind most of the others. As Jessica Ennis Hill had issues with the javelin, Johnson-Thompson needs some work here. 

In the long jump, Katerina Johnson-Thompson set a CR record once again. Her leap of 6.89m compares favorably with her pb and British indoor record, set 21 February in Birmingham, UK. 
It was the only jump of KJT's I witnessed during the competition, as she road the air for much longer than most, landing at 6.93m in Birmingham. The 6.89m long jump put Katerina Johnson-Thompson eleven points ahead of of world record pace for 5,012. 

To make the World record hers, KJT needed to run 2:11.86.

And this was my beef. The 800 meters was moved up by one hour. And no coaches complained? 

A world record is a precious thing. Most never have a chance to have a go at an honest to god WR. After four events, three personal best, Johnson-Thompson had to be fatigued. 

That fatigue showed in the 800 meters, where she came oh so close to the WR, with her 2:12.78, another PB. 

As I tried my theory out on others, one noted that she, KJT also could have had a few more centimeters in the shot put. 

But, alas, it was not to be. And in the mixed zone, British media told me that Katerina Johnson-Thompson was in tears. She thought she had the record, but, alas, so close and still so far. For this seasoned observer, it was an opportunity squandered. The 800 meters should have stayed on schedule and KJT needed an advocate. 

The new British record, the Euro Indoor title, gives Katerina Johnson-Thompson another building block towards World and Olympic medals. 

It also is a hard won lesson. WRs are precious and do not come easy, for anyone. Such attempts need to be stage managed, to protect energy reserves and make the attempts as strong as they can. 

For Katerina Johnson-Thompson, it was a first: the European Indoor pentathlon title, and five thousand points tells fans, coaches and athletes that she is on her way.....




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