Katarina Johnson-Thompson runs for two countries as Bahamas ties remain strong

By Drew Farmer for Bahamas Athletics

Despite wearing the track and field colors of Great Britain at this year's IAAF World Championships in London, Katarina Johnson-Thompson was running for two countries.

Born in Liverpool, Johnson-Thompson traces her roots back to The Bahamas, where her father Ricardo Thompson has been a production assistant for Bahamas' national television station ZNS for many years. The Bahamas have claimed the 24-year-old heptathlon athlete as their own as she has exceled in her young career. It is a feeling that Johnson-Thompson has cherished as she has called both The Bahamas and England home in her lifetime.

"When I went back in 2012, it [The Bahamas] just sort of felt like home to me," Johnson-Thompson said. "I watched videos of me in the Olympics from 2012 with the Bahamian commentators and even though I had on the team GB kit, they were going 'this is our girl Katarina.'

"They sort of accepted me as a Bahamian even though I was in a team GB kit. It nearly brought a tear to my eyes to know I have support from The Bahamas and the UK."

That support has helped Johnson-Thompson to become one of the top British track and field athletes. At the youth and junior levels, Johnson-Thompson achieved gold in the heptathlon in 2009 and 2013, while securing another gold medal at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona in the long jump. In 2015, she took gold once more at the European Indoor Championships' Pentathlon event.

This season saw her record a personal best in the heptathlon in Austria as she tallied 6,691 points. She added to that score by securing a personal best in the 100m hurdles at the same competition in May.

Despite her successes, Johnson-Thompson has struggled on both the Olympic and the World Championship stages. This year's competition in London saw her finish fifth with a 6,558-point total. Johnson-Thompson was undone by the high jump, an event that proved to be one of her strongest in past competitions.

Unfortunately, the 2017 World Championships has now gone down as a major missed opportunity. The retirements of Ennis-Hill and Brianne Theisen-Eaton, created room at the top for rising stars in the heptathlon and expectations were high for Johnson-Thompson to win a medal. But this year's performance in only her second heptathlon of 2017, proved Johnson-Thompson still has plenty of room to improve.

This 2017 World Championships marked her third major tournament without finishing in the top three places. Johnson-Thompson knows she must push herself harder to equal the feats of former teammate Ennis-Hill, who won three World Championship gold medals in the heptathlon.

"I was a bit afraid. Now I know I can do it, I’m going to push and push more," Johnson-Thompson explained after her heptathlon performance this year.

Thousands of miles back in The Bahamas, Johnson-Thompson is still considered a success despite finishing without a medal around her neck. Although she spent her formative years in Liverpool attending St. Julie's Catholic High School, it was with her father in The Bahamas that she spent the first year of her life. Today, Johnson-Thompson's father and her large extended family still live in The Bahamas and support her while she competes around the world.

"It's very hard for them [my family in The Bahamas] to come and support me," Johnson-Thompson explained before the World Championships. "It's very hard for my family in Liverpool to support me even though it [the World Championships] is in London.

"The trains and hotels are expensive. I'm sure both sides of the family are supporting me from home and watching on TV."

Her ties to The Bahamas are strong, although her track and field career has made visits to the islands less frequent than when she was a child. In a 2016 interview with England's Daily Mail Online, Ricardo spoke about his "mixed emotions" when it came to his daughter's success in the sport.

"Seeing Katarina's success always gave me mixed emotions. I felt so happy but also sadness because I wanted to be there for her and I wasn't, so I just couldn't see it all," Ricardo said at the time.

"It's such an achievement for her and she's done it all by herself. Watching her collect the gold on that podium would be amazing."

Looking back, it is easy to think of what could have been for The Bahamas track and field team. Ricardo was working at the Crystal Palace Hotel and Casino in Nassau when his daughter was a toddler. However, Johnson-Thompson's mother, Tracey, was forced to move back to England when the hotel and casino shut its doors in the 1990s. Ricardo lost his job, while Tracey, a former Moulin Rouge dancer, was unable to find work.

Things could have been different for the family and Johnson-Thompson could just as easily have spent her teenage years in Nassau. Would she still be a top heptathlon athlete competing around the world? Perhaps but without her experiences growing up in Liverpool, she may never have reached the level she currently competes at.

Today, Johnson-Thompson calls southern France home. She moved from Liverpool to the French coast in late 2016. The move was made to improve her performances after feeling like she had stalled under her previous coaches in Liverpool.

At her new training ground in Montpellier, Johnson-Thompson has surrounded herself with former heptathlon and decathlon champions to help her reach the next level: winning a medal at a major event. She is working harder than ever before and she has stated she has increased her training from three days to four since arriving in France.

Although the results of her new regime may not have shown in London, Johnson-Thompson continues her upward trajectory in the heptathlon. With more experience in the event, will come medals to wear and Olympic podiums to celebrate on.

From The Bahamas to England to France, Katarina Johnson-Thompson may wear the colors of Great Britain but there are fans in a country 6,909 kilometers away that are cheering for her just as loudly as the ones in the UK.

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