Katarina Johnson-Thompson: 'Why I quit athlete life for 3 months after the Tokyo Olympics'

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Olympic heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson is, to say the least, seriously impressive.

Ever since qualifying for London 2012 aged just 19 she's been in the spotlight as one of the top female members of Team GB to watch, routinely notching up victories at Olympic Games and World Championships.

Not that things always go her way.

While she walked away with the world title at the World Athletics Championships in Doha in 2019, she's since suffered a series of injuries and most recently placed eighth in the heptathlon of the 2022 events. But she stands undeterred.

'These are the moments I probably remember more than the happier ones,' she wrote on Instagram. 'Unfortunately the bad feelings always seem to stick around longer than the better ones! This time, I’m proud that I didn’t shy away from it and truly embraced defeat.
After two turbulent years full of difficulties and upheaval with mind, body and soul - this is where I am right now. && I’m walking away from this champs with more fight in me than I’ve had for a long time.

'I have so many people to thank for getting me onto the start line and walking away both healthy and wanting. I know it’s not what we dreamed of, so onto the next!
Commonwealth games in two weeks - let’s see what I can get out of the season 💜.'

Katarina also faced an extra barrier ahead of the 2020 Olympic games. That being an Achilles tendon rupture so severe that it was touch and go whether she would even get to compete in the games.

'Just getting to the start line at the Tokyo Olympics after [sustaining] such a hard injury in December 2020 was huge,' she tells Women's Health – adding, 'Even if I didn't finish.' (Heartbreakingly, Katarina's hopes for a medal at Tokyo were dashed when she tore a calf muscle during the 200m portion of her event.)

While Katarina was in a positive, reflective mood when WH caught up with her, the disappointment clearly hit hard. At the time she posted a picture of herself, making her way up the track, with the caption: 'Going to take some time to process and heal my body & spirit'.

It was accompanied by a powerful statement in which Katarina referenced how hard she'd fought to compete in the games and how she knew she had much to be proud of.

But – demonstrating just how much strength can be found in being vulnerable – she didn't sugarcoat her disappointment, writing: 'I've been knocked so many times and got back up, but it will take a lot of time for me to process this reality.'

And you better believe that the 28-year-old properly committed to this time of mental, physical and emotional recovery.

'I didn’t do anything sporty for three months – it was the longest break I’ve ever had,' she explains. But not only was she hanging up her training gear and giving the track a wide berth – this distance was mental, too.'I didn’t identify as an Olympic athlete at all,' she explains. I hung out with my dogs and went to the Bahamas with my mum, which is where her family are from.'

'She hadn’t been for so long and it was lovely mother-daughter memory.' Cute, right? And, yes, the virtual postcards she uploaded to the 'gram should probably come with a content warning for those sun-starved folk who've not left the UK for the best part of two years.

Kidding. It's properly heartening to hear of young female athletes prioritising the needs of their bodies and minds. Especially as your identity as an elite sportsperson can override much else – causing mental health struggles for many in elite sport.

It's something that athletes including WH cover star Dina Asher-Smith have shared their thoughts about in the past.

Alongside mother-daughter time, self-proclaimed bookworm Kat made some serious headway with her reading list. 'I'm an only child, and very happy in my own company,' she tells WH. 'It’s important for me to take time for myself, and even when I can't travel, I escape using a good book.'

'I review every book I read and keep them in a folder on my phone. My favourite, of late was Love and Other Thought Experiments (£14.99, Corsair) by Sophie Ward,' she continues – adding, 'it’s really strange, but so good.

Time off also meant Katarina leaning into her off-season eating.'When I'm not in training, I enjoy mac 'n' cheese and pizza,' she says. 'After living in France for five years, I love a nice glass of wine – mine’s a Merlot.'

After taking time to recuperate post-Tokyo, Katarina's eyes are refocused on her next competition, the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Oregon, USA. 'Now I’m rested – mentally and physically – and raring to go once more,' she confirms.

A huge psychology geek, she'll ready books by the likes of psychiatrist Steve Peters to give her that mental edge.

Alongside working on her mind, Katarina is focused on tools which optimise her eyesight. 'With margins of success so slim in my sport – a matter of milliseconds or centimetres – visual clarity is as important as mental clarity,' Katarina contines. 'I don't have perfect eyesight but use Acuvue lenses, which give me the freedom to compete without having to bother with glasses.'

We can't wait to see what she does next.

Katarina is an ambassador for ACUVUE contact lenses

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