Katarina Johnson-Thompson broke Jessica Ennis-Hill’s British record to land pentathlon gold at the European Indoor Championships in Prague – but her immediate reaction was devastation at falling agonisingly short of the world record.
The Liverpool athlete amassed 5,000 points, just shy of Ukrainian Nataliya Dobrynska’s haul of 5,013, to land the first major title of her career in commanding fashion.
If there were any doubts left that this 22-year-old was destined for greatness they were blown out of the water by a performance of utter domination. She finished a huge 304 points clear of the field – only 282 separated silver medal from last place.
That her reaction to such an achievement was “instant regret” spoke volumes about Johnson-Thompson’s potential.
Speaking with tears in her eyes, she said: “I’ve been tearing my brains out these last couple of weeks thinking I could get it (the world record) so to come so close, yeah I’m disappointed.”
Fired up by last year’s injury frustrations when a stress fracture to her foot ruled her out of the Commonwealth Games and European Championships, and boasting a fearless new attitude, Johnson-Thompson came first in the 60m hurdles, high jump and long jump.
The Liverpool athlete roared to a hurdles personal best of 8.18 seconds - her third PB in the discipline in less than three weeks - before clearing a championship record 1.95m in the high jump and equalling her season’s best of 12.32m in the shot put, by far her weakest event.
She lay second after the first three events, but the long jump, at which she is the British indoor record holder and reigning world indoor silver medallist, offered her the chance to all but guarantee gold and to put the world record within touching distance.
She delivered nervelessly, leaping out to 6.89m, another championship record, on her first attempt.
Needing to clock at least 2mins 11.86secs over 800m for the world record, Johnson-Thompson drifted off the pace and crossed the line in 2:12.78.
Ennis-Hill’s three-year-old British record of 4,965 points was still consigned to history, though.
Not that that was of much consolation to Johnson-Thompson when she crossed the line and saw the clock.
“I was gutted, instant regret,” she said.
After receiving her gold medal, and having time to reflect, she was at least able to take more joy in the achievement.
“If someone had said to me, ‘You’ve got 5000 points and a gold medal’, at the beginning of the day I would have taken it, but because everything was going so well and I was so close, I think that’s what made me so sad,” she said.
Ennis-Hill congratulated her compatriot on Twitter, saying: “Well done Kat!! Amazing performance! Sad to see my record go but couldn’t have gone to a more deserving athlete!”
The Olympic heptathlon champion is due to return to the sport this summer following the birth of her first child.
She will have one hell of a job on her hands to reclaim top spot now her natural heir looks ready to inherit the throne, but Johnson-Thompson said she was not at her compatriot’s level yet.
“I wouldn’t call myself an equal,” she said. “This is pentathlon, heptathlon’s seven events.”
Johnson-Thompson’s 17-year-old team-mate Morgan Lake finished in ninth place in the pentathlon with a personal best of 4,527 points.
Lucy Hatton and Serita Solomon claimed Britain’s second and third medals on the opening day of competition with silver and bronze respectively in the 60m hurdles.
Hatton and Solomon both ran their third PBs of the day, the former coming home in 7.90 and the latter in 7.93.
City of Sheffield’s Lee Emanuel qualified for the 3,000m final but his club-mate Mukhtar Mohammed failed to progress in the 800m.