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French leave has paid off and Kat’s ready to pounce

High hopes: Johnson-Thompson has had an encouraging start to her season

KATARINA JOHNSON-Thompson has admitted she is enjoying the heptathlon more than ever, all thanks to her move to France two years ago.

The 26-year-old British star set a lifetime-best score of 6,813 points to win the revered Hypo Meeting in Gotzis last month, a total which would have earned her Olympic gold at four of the last six Games.

Johnson-Thompson moved from her beloved Liverpool to Montpellier to work with coach Bertrand Valcin in late 2016 and has seen her gold-medal tally rise and rise.

No barriers: Johnson-Thompson

Before Gotzis, she had won European indoor gold, world indoor gold, Commonwealth gold and European silver in the space of 12 months.

It is quite a transformation after the years of coming close but struggling to get over the line which preceded the switch.

With world championship gold in Doha and Tokyo Olympic glory in her sights over the next 14 months, she told Metro: ‘I’m lucky I moved when I did after the last Olympics to give myself a couple of years to settle in before Tokyo.

‘I was the right age. The move came at the right time. It definitely changed me as a person and helped me to grow up.

‘It’s definitely working for me. I love going back to Liverpool to see my family and friends, but at this point in my life I’m dedicated to what I’m doing and moving back is not something I’ve been thinking about.’

While she is adept at avoiding hurdles on the track, there is one final obstacle standing in the Liverpudlian’s way.

‘It’s just the language that’s difficult,’ she added. ‘I can understand it but it’s difficult for me to speak fluently. I feel bad I can’t speak it to people but it’s not holding me back.’

While one crucial event would go awry for Johnson-Thompson in the heptathlon in the past, it appears now she is both mentally and physically more robust.

She labelled her 11th place at the 2015 world championships as the worst week of her life as three fouls in the long jump wrecked her hopes. She is now calmer, more collected and philosophical, with no sign of nerves ahead of two such huge major championships.

‘It’s nice — and strange,’ said Johnson-Thompson. ‘It’s a new position to be in for me. All I need to do is do my best on the day. I have nothing to worry about now.’

The other thing on her side is a 2019 which has so far been free of the injuries that have hampered her at times in her career and she will continue her build-up to Doha at next month’s Muller Anniversary Games in London, in the 200metres and long jump.

She admitted: ‘I was trying to think of when I’d last had an injury-free build-up to a heptathlon and the answer is never!

‘It’s probably no coincidence a personal best came out of it. Now I’m focused on trying to stay healthy and be in form come October.’

With a later-then-usual slot in the calendar, the world championships are still a long way off.

Johnson-Thompson will compete on October 2 and 3, and said: ‘It was always the plan — to build slowly as the season is so long. I need to be ready to peak at the right time. This year is about Doha but everything is also a step towards Tokyo now.’

And everything Johnson-Thompson is doing right now appears to be a step in the right direction.

■ 337 — Points, Johnson-Thompson’s winning margin at the event in Austria last month

■ 57 — Points she trailed home behind winner Nafi Thiam at last summer’s European Championships. The Olympic and world champion did not compete in Gotzis as she was still making her comeback from a calf injury

■ 2 — Gold medals for Johnson-Thompson last year — at the world indoors and the Commonwealth Games

Tickets for the Muller Anniversary Games are on sale at theticketfactory.com/british-athletics