Defending champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson eyeing return to winning ways

Defending champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson is eyeing a return to the top as she bids for a first heptathlon title in three years.

The 29-year-old is the overnight leader at the Commonwealth Games after a solid first day at the Alexander Stadium.

Johnson-Thompson sits on 3765 points, 109 ahead of Northern Ireland’s Kate O’Connor.

The pandemic and two serious Achilles and calf injuries have stopped Johnson-Thompson winning a title since the World Championships in 2019 but she is closing in on a successful defence in Birmingham.

She said: “It’s really nice, in 2018 this competition was the platform for me to win global medals so hopefully this will be it again and my transition back. It’s hard to be confident when my results have happened over the last year but I’m confident in myself, I’m enjoying it, I’m happy, it’s all I can do.

“I got two seasons’ best and two weeks post jetlag, travel and heptathlon (from the World Championships) I wasn’t really expecting them. I’m really happy, feeling good and feel like I recovered well.

“It’s been tough but I’ve been pushing so much this season I was happy to have a week off, it was nice being at home, not training and letting my body recover. It’s my last competition of the year so hopefully it will be a nice way to finish off the season.”

Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games – Day Five
Katarina Johnson-Thompson was in dominant form in the 200m (Mike Egerton/PA)

Johnson-Thompson comes off the back of finishing eighth at the World Championships, relinquishing her title to Olympic champion Nafi Thiam.

On Tuesday, she held a 17-point lead after the 100m hurdles and high jump on the opening morning. After a throw of 12.94m in the shot put it was down to 11 points, ahead of O’Connor, but after winning the 200m in 23.70 seconds she increased her lead.

Meanwhile, Holly Bradshaw was forced to withdraw from the pole vault. Bradshaw, who won Olympic bronze last year, failed to recover from the hamstring injury she suffered in a freak accident at the World Championships.

Her pole broke during her final practice jump – seeing her land awkwardly and hurt her hamstring – and she had to pull out in Eugene. At the Alexander Stadium, after testing the injury prior to the competition, she was unable to compete.

Daryll Neita
Daryll Neita won her heat in the 100m (Isaac Parkin/PA)

She told the BBC: “I had a scan after my incident in the worlds and I had a partial tear of my hamstring and tendon. I vaulted in Saturday very tentatively and I thought I would be OK but in my warm-up I felt something pop. This was going to be my last Commonwealth Games and a chance of a medal but it wasn’t meant to be. I’m glad I gave it a go and wasn’t sat at home.”

Earlier, England’s Daryll Neita declared she is ready to challenge Elaine Thompson-Herah for gold. The 25-year-old clocked 11.02 seconds to win her 100m heat at the Alexander Stadium in the morning.

She reached Wednesday’s semi-final ahead of an expected final showdown with reigning Olympic 100m champion Thompson-Herah. With Dina Asher-Smith out after suffering a hamstring injury at the World Championships the spotlight is on Neita who is primed to go for top spot.

“I’m always aiming for gold. Any time I step on the track I want gold. I’m going to get as close as I can,” said last year’s 100m Olympic finalist.

“It was nice to come out after what’s been a long week of travel and readjusting to the UK. It’s nice to win the heat and get ready for the final tomorrow.”

Scotland’s Laura Muir, who won 1500m bronze in Eugene last month, also reached the 800m final in one minute 58.84 seconds, joining Keely Hodgkinson and Alexandra Bell in Saturday’s showpiece.

She said: “My training has been really good since I got home and if anything I think I’m just going to be getting fitter. I just hope by the weekend I’ll be in a good place to get on that podium.”

Hannah Cockroft won the T33/34 100m ahead of England team-mate Kare Adenegan.