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johnson-thompson takes world junior title

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Junior World Championships 2012

13 July 2012

Katarina Johnson-Thompson (coach: Mike Holmes) provided a display of the talent that propelled her to the London 2012 Olympic Games as she triumphed in an incredibly tense Anglo-German long jump battle at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona.

With two athletes from the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team qualified to the final, the interest was high to see who between current World number 1 Jazmin Sawyers (Alan Lerwill) and the heptathlon sensation was to gain the upper hand, and the two put up a nerve-wracking and entertaining show – one that risked being spoiled by a very inopportune German interloper.

Sawyers took a provisional lead after the first round of jumps – her leap of 6.67m a new PB and World Junior Leading Performance. Katarina Johnson-Thompson placed herself in second with 6.57m with her first trial, but it was her third attempt that was to settle the competition.

The soon-to-be Olympian hit the board just right and literally flew over the sandpit, landing a massive 6.81m away – and only a wind reading over the limit prevented this outstanding performance to become the new World Leading Performance.

These two performances truly exacted their toll on the two British athletes, however; both subsequently failed to improve on their good marks – Sawyers collecting five foul jumps in her remaining attempts. Johnson-Thompson jumped 5.39m and 5.05m in her fourth and fifth attempt, but when it seemed the competition had been put on ice, German athlete Lena Malkus threw a spanner in the works.

A near-perfect jump from the German went all the way to 6.80m, just one shy of KJT’s leading measure – but enough to knock Sawyers off the second spot of the podium.

“When Lena did her big jump I couldn’t really see what distance it was – I had to ask an official” confessed the Liverpool Harrier. “What a relief to find out it was a 6.80m and not a 6.82, I don’t think I could have responded as my big jump had taken all adrenaline out of me.”

Thankfully, the top spot was Katarina’s to keep – and the result meant a second gold medal made its way to the Aviva Great Britain and Northern Ireland team. Sawyers’s bronze increased the total tally to 5, tonight’s medals joining Adam Gemili’s 100m gold, Jessica Judd’s 800m silver and Emelia Gorecka’s 3000m bronze.

“I am really pleased with my performance, especially because I didn’t expect it” said Johnson-Thompson in the mixed zone. “I thought I would be in with a shot at a top 5, top 3 maybe, if I hit the board right.”

“I always knew in my head there was a big jump coming. I never really hit the board well, and when I did I would land with my feet 20cm apart! This time though it all came together when it really mattered.”

Jazmin Sawyers, who had entered the competition leading the World rankings with a top distance of 6.64m, was hugely disappointed in getting bronze, although she acknowledged the importance of her achievement.

“I know it’s a PB and I know I should be happy with a medal – but I won’t be satisfied until my best will be the absolute best.” The City of Stoke athlete’s achievement is made even more impressive by her age – just 18 – an age belied by the experience she already accumulated as an international heptathlete, long jumper and bobsleigh Youth Olympic Medallist.

Sawyers pointed out how her own personal disappointment did not diminish her joy for the achievement of friend Johnson-Thompson, and the feeling was surely mutual.

“The hardest part of tonight was to compete for the gold medal not only against a team mate, but against my roommate” said the newly-crowned World Junior Champion. “At the end of the day, one was going to beat the other: Jazmin is a really, really talented girl and one of my best friends, she should be really pleased with her performance tonight. It would have been great to have a 1-2, but I know she has the strength to come back from this – and she has another year as a junior ahead.”

The long jumpers’ performances weren’t the only highlights of the evening, as the session brought several other PBs to reward the British athletes for their performances.

Reigning European Under 20 Champion David Bolarinwa (John Powell) equaled his best ever performance in the final of the 200m; his time, 20.69s, put the Newham & Essex Beagle in sixth position in a fast race won by Turks & Caicos’s Delano Williams in 20.48s. Aaron Ernest and Tyreek Hill ensured a USA lockdown on the rest of the podium, with hotly tipped Jerome Forte of Jamaica finishing last.

In the women’s final, Desiree Henry (Mike McFarlane) saw her quest for a back-to-back Youth and Junior medal end as she finished fourth in a time of 23.34s. The young athlete – she is yet to turn 17 – performed bravely in these Championships to reach a final that seemed a distant dream during a winter dogged by injury; and the chance to compete at one further World Junior Championship will ensure she will be the leading name when it comes to add this title to her collection in 2014.

In the same race, Dina Asher-Smith (John Blackie) shaved 0.07s off her Personal Best to finish seventh in 23.50s.

“I am really happy I got as far as the final, and to close it with a PB just adds to it” said the youngest member of the GB team, who thoroughly enjoyed the experience, “there is a great atmosphere in here and it’s a wonderful place to compete.”

Emma Buckett (Bill Jewers) and Katy Marchant (Antonio Minichiello) reached the end of their heptathlon campaign in style. With only the javelin and 800m remaining on their two-day quest, both had to work hard to ensure their experience ended on a high.

In the first event of the afternoon, Marchant sent her javelin flying for 36.10m, while Buckett, with 31.83m, hit a new PB in this particular event. It was a sign of things to come for the Basingstoke & Mid Hants athlete, who achieved another Personal Best in the 800m, with 2:25.88. Marchant brought her competition to a close with a time of 2:29.77. These results ensured Emma Buckett clinched a new overall Personal Best in the heptathlon with a score of 5383 points, up from 5199. Marchant scored 5046 points, with the duo classified in 15th and 21st positions respectively.

“These two days were incredible” said an elated Buckett after the most cherished tradition of combined events, the collective lap of honour of all competitors. “It was just so good to be here, these Championships are something that I looked at last year and thought I could have made if I had one extra year to prepare. I am so grateful I was selected to compete, and to come here with no pressure allowed me to enjoy the event and have so much fun.”

“It was so great to be able to compete alongside another British girl – we are competing against world class athletes we had only heard the names before, we are sharing a room for a week and we are out here, for two days, representing Britain. It doesn’t get better than this.”

“Competing in front of such a crowd in this beautiful stadium makes a world of difference, it makes you want it so much more. And with my performance, I feel I proved that I belong here, that I deserved this chance.”

The Great Britain relay teams were one of the pre-event most eagerly awaited acts, and they did a neat job at the first time of asking. The women’s team executed a spotless race in heat two, clocking a new Season Best of 44.47s to win from Brazil (44.79s) and Belgium (44.88s).

The relay fielded in the round saw Annie Tagoe (Connie Henry) in the first leg, followed by the Welsh duo of Hannah Thomas (Dave Lease) and Rachel Johncock (Philip Oliver). 100m finalist Sophie Papps (Neil Dodson) ran the anchor leg that saw the British team record the third best time in the whole field, behind only the USA and Germany.

The men’s team was led by Emmanuel Stephens (Julian Golding), who passed the baton to Chijindu Ujah (Jonas Tawiah-Dodoo). Tom Holligan (Keith Ridley) finished his leg just behind the Jamaican third runner, but anchor leg runner Adam Gemili (Michael Afilaka) put in another vintage performance, less than 48 hours after his triumph in the 100m final, to see Great Britain & Northern Ireland win in 39.09s, a new Season best and the second fastest time in the whole round, behind the impressive 39.01s – a new World leading time – by the Japanese team.

The relay teams will reconvene tomorrow for two exciting finals at 21:35 (women) and 21:50 (men). Before these showdowns,  Abbi Carter (Dave Smith) will take on the best from qualifying in the hammer throw final (18:30), Katarina Johnson-Thompson will try to clinch qualification to the final in the 100m hurdles (semi-final, 18:35) and Ben Waterman (Steve Mann) will compete in the 800m semis (20:15).