World Athletics Championships 2023: Katarina Johnson-Thompson & Zharnel Hughes star for GB

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Katarina Johnson-Thompson is back on top of the world and Zharnel Hughes earned a breakthrough 100m bronze on a stellar night for GB in Budapest.

Johnson-Thompson won her second heptathlon world title in dramatic circumstances, defending a narrow lead over American favourite Anna Hall in a gripping conclusion over 800m.

Meanwhile, Hughes finished behind Noah Lyles and Letsile Tebogo in a tight 100m final to clinch his first individual global medal.

The two successes arrived little over an hour apart at the World Championships on Sunday as both athletes completed their own redemption stories.

“It’s the best day of my life,” said Johnson-Thompson, who ran an 800m personal best to finish 20 points ahead of race winner Hall.

“It’s more special [than winning in Doha in 2019]. I can’t believe it. It’s like being in a dream.

“I have been thinking about this for months and months. Nobody else could see the vision apart from me and my team. I’m just so happy that it’s come true.”

Hughes, who clocked 9.88 seconds to win bronze, said: “My heart is full with emotions, I’m just super grateful.

“I honestly wanted a gold medal but hey, leaving this championship with a medal around my neck – I’m so grateful for it.”

Their achievements took Great Britain’s medal tally to three at these World Championships, following Saturday’s mixed 4x400m relay silver.

‘All I wanted was a shot at gold’

It has been a long and arduous journey for Johnson-Thompson to reclaim the world title she won in Doha in 2019.

During the four years since that first global triumph she has had to overcome a career-threatening Achilles rupture, the devastation of a mid-competition injury at the Tokyo Olympics and, perhaps most challenging of all, the doubt and loss of love for her sport which followed.

Last year’s disappointing eighth-placed finish at the Worlds in Eugene proved the turning point.

This gold signalled the completion of a remarkable turnaround in her career, the 30-year-old greeting the confirmation of her marginal victory on the big screen with a beaming smile of disbelief.

“In Tokyo I still thought I had a chance, I still thought I could have medalled. In Eugene I tried my best and I wasn’t getting anywhere,” Johnson-Thompson said.

“Eugene was the worst of me. It was such a horrible experience to be in the competition but not competing for the medals.

“I had no nerves coming into the 800m. When my name was called I could see the montages, I saw my 2019 self. All I wanted was a shot at gold.

“I committed to the vision and committed to trying again. I committed to getting my heart broken – and this time I didn’t. It’s all come good and I’m so happy.”

‘Johnson-Thompson had unfinished business’

Johnson-Thompson’s 43-point lead over Hall heading in to the decisive 800m equated to an advantage of about two-and-a-half seconds, setting up a nail-biting finale.

But she produced a personal best – having also done so in the javelin – of two minutes 05.63 seconds to finish within 1.54 secs of the talented 22-year-old American, taking overall victory by 20 points.

“It was incredible wasn’t it?” three-time world champion Jessica Ennis-Hill said on BBC TV.

“No-one wrote her off, but we didn’t expect her to come away [as] best in the world again.”

That Johnson-Thompson could manage that effort after two intense days of competition spoke volumes of her current form and fitness, with the Paris Games less than 12 months away.

Denise Lewis, who won Olympic heptathlon gold in 2000, said: “I am incredibly happy for Kat and her team. You don’t become a bad athlete overnight. Her body had let her down and now she’s fit.

“She will feel relieved to be back on top of the world. When she is healthy, she’s going to deliver. She had unfinished business.”

This means the world to me – Hughes

For Hughes, Sunday’s showdown with the world’s fastest men provided him the opportunity to deliver in a major final.

The 28-year-old’s Olympic ambitions were abruptly ended by a false start in the Tokyo final two years ago, while he failed to qualify from his Worlds semi-final in 2022.

Hughes admitted a false start by South African Akani Simbine in his semi-final here caused him to start cautiously before he powered down the home straight to set up a chance at a medal.

“I just needed to execute my race. In the semi-finals I got a great start but when we had the false start it made me sit in my blocks a bit,” said Hughes.

“I just needed to trust myself. I knew I had the speed and I just needed to stay in the mix. Once I was in the mix I just needed to power through and everything would take care of itself.”

Hughes momentarily believed he had beaten American Lyles, who won in 9.83 to match the Briton’s world-leading time, in a close finish to a wide-open event.

“Honestly, I thought I’d got Lyles,” said Hughes.

“I didn’t know Tebogo was up there. When I saw the results and I saw Tebogo’s name I thought ‘where did he come from’ but, nevertheless, I’m up there as well. This means the world to me.”

There are further opportunities to come, with Hughes beginning his 200m campaign in Wednesday’s heats before joining GB’s bid for a 4x100m relay medal.

“The 200m is my baby, I love the 200m,” Hughes said. “For me, I’m just going to go back now and recover, get some good sleep tonight and go again.”

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