Johnson-Thompson pulls out of European Championships in blow to Olympic hopes

<span>Katarina Johnson-Thompson has battled injuries before the Olympics on multiple occasions. </span><span>Photograph: Aleksandra Szmigiel/Reuters</span>
Katarina Johnson-Thompson has battled injuries before the Olympics on multiple occasions. Photograph: Aleksandra Szmigiel/Reuters

Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s dreams of winning Olympic ­heptathlon gold in Paris next month have been thrown into uncertainty after she pulled out of the European ­Athletics Championships three events in due to injury.

At that point Johnson-Thompson, the reigning world champion, was struggling in ninth – 318 points behind the 2020 Olympic gold medallist Nafi Thiam. And while her team insisted afterwards that she had only suffered a niggle, it comes at the worst ­possible time for the 31-year-old.

The news was confirmed by Johnson-Thompson’s coach, Aston Moore, who said: “Kat has developed a small niggle in her right leg, and in light of the proximity of the Olympic Games we have chosen to bank what we have learned from this first day of competition and withdraw from the heptathlon.

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“We don’t want to risk losing any time from training, which could be the result if she was to carry on ­competing with it for another day.”

It is not the first time that ­Johnson-Thompson has battled ­injuries before the Olympics. In 2016 she was the favourite for the Rio Games only to have to undergo knee surgery ­beforehand. Eight months before the Tokyo Olympics she ruptured an achilles tendon.

In truth Johnson-Thompson had not looked entirely herself in Rome. She started by running 13.66sec in the 100m hurdles – more than half a second off her best – before clearing 1.83m in the high jump, 15cm below her record.

She came out for the shot put in the early evening, but after a ­modest 12.44m effort, 89cm below her PB from earlier this year, she decided to withdraw before the 200 metres.

Meanwhile Thiam, who had not competed since 2023 due to a ­serious achilles injury, suggested she remains the one to beat in Paris as she ended day one on 3,955 points – 35 points clear of her compatriot Noor Vidts.

There was better news for Britain as Jemma Reekie, Georgia Bell and Katie Snowden all qualified impressively for Sunday’s final of the 1500m. However Bell revealed ­afterwards it was not so simple. “Someone’s spikes went right through my shoe,” she said. “They’ve completely fallen apart.”

In the evening session, CJ Ujah qualified for the men’s 100m in his first appearance for Britain since a failed drugs test cost Team GB an Olympic silver medal in 2021.

The 30-year-old, whose positive test was found to have been caused by a contaminated amino acid bought on Amazon for £10 during lockdown, ran a controlled race to win his heat in 10.23sec. “I have come here to focus on myself,” he said. “A lot of people want to do the Italian job.”

The day ended with Ireland’s mixed 4x400m relay team of Chris O’Donnell, Rhasidat Adeleke, Thomas Barr and Sharlene Mawdsley springing a shock to win gold, ahead of Italy and the Netherlands. They joined Sonia O’Sullivan as the country’s only gold medallists in the 90-year history of the European championships.

Meanwhile, in the birthplace of the Renaissance, one British athlete will be looking to further rebuild her career on Saturday. In 2019 Amy Hunt was hailed as one of the “faces to define the decade” after breaking the women’s 200m under-18 world record in a time so fast it would have won a senior world bronze medal that year.

Off the track, Hunt – then 17 – also got into Cambridge University to study English. But then a series of injuries led her to fear that she would never get back to her best. At one point things got so bad, her mum had to lift her into the shower because she was unable to bend her knee, but after five long years – and major surgery – Hunt can finally see a path back.

“The injury was so traumatic it killed off a lot of my nerves in the area,” she said. “There were ­definitely points last year when I was in the trenches, finishing my degree, and thinking will I ever get back?”

But the day after graduating last summer she flew to Padova in Italy to train under Marco Airale and such has been her progress that a medal in the women’s 100m and 4x100m relay is not beyond her.

“I graduated from Cambridge and the next day got up at 2am and flew to Padua,” she said. “From that point onwards everything has been going so, so well.

“I’m still very much getting used to handling my new body, new training and new technique. But the 100m is such an unpredictable event, ­anything can happen.”