Katarina Johnson-Thompson finally comes good on world stage

BIRMINGHAM, England -- There were no tears but finally a smile from Katarina Johnson-Thompson as she ended her wait for a world gold. Six months after heptathlon frustration in front of a different 'home' crowd at the World Championships in London, the British athlete finally came good on home soil in the IAAF World Indoor Championships pentathlon.

Johnson-Thompson was playing down expectations ahead of the IAAF World Indoor Championships -- a series of near-misses, or frustrating opportunities squandered, does that to you -- but this was an exercise in consistency, box-ticking and ensuring she kept her place out in front of the chasing pack when it mattered. "I'm so happy it's all over," she said, soon after the gold was confirmed.

Even on Thursday when she faced the press at a pre-event conference, she smiled little and rolled her eyes when asked about her previous inconsistencies in multi-events. Question marks were hovering, ones she is tired of having hanging around. She has also struggled with illness this week. But then as she came first in the 800 metres, the final discipline in the five-event competition, it was overwhelming relief which was the dominant emotion and with it came Great Britain's first indoor gold since 2014.

"It's been up and down, it's been a long old day but the crowd pushed me on. You have to believe in order to do it," she said. "But it's been a long time coming."

Since her World Youth Championships triumph in 2009, she had just a pentathlon silver medal to her name from the 2015 European Indoor Championships for multi-eventing despite being widely fancied for heptathlon medals in Rio at the 2016 Olympics and then at London 2017. Doubts over her mental strength lingered, so too her ability to compete for the world's top medals when she sometimes struggled in the throwing events. So underpinning this gold was her disproving both sets of demons.

First the mental strength side. In London last August it was one her favoured events, the high jump, which proved to be her outdoing and exiled her from the heptathlon medals. Here, she did what was required, registering the best leap across the field of 1.91 metres. It was conservative by her standards -- her indoor personal best is 1.97 -- but it gave her confidence going into the shot put.

In Rio in 2016, the javelin part of heptathlon killed off her medal chances, but that event was never going to be an issue indoors. Instead, her throwing was concentrated on the shot put and she registered a personal best, throwing 12.68 metres. It helped her build momentum heading into the evening's session.

Johnson-Thompson came into the arena in second place, 13 points off Cuba's Yorgelis Rodriguez. She finished 10 centimetres ahead of Ivona Dadic in the long jump, giving her a 33-point lead over the Austrian.

Tantalisingly, the difference equated to around a two-second target for Dadic to make up, which is the gap between their two personal bests over that distance indoors.

But it was Johnson-Thompson who kept her head. The smile looked strained as she greeted the crowd in the pre-race introductions, but as Dadic took the early lead, she stayed close by, ever monitoring the pace and ensuring she was within touching distance. And then with a lap left, she went out in front and kept that lead through to the end.

There will be those who point to the absentees with Nafi Thiam, Carolin Schafer and Anouk Vetter - the heptathlon 1-2-3 in London -- all missing from this field. But Johnson-Thompson will take this experience and the self-belief into the heptathlon, with the hope it will lead to further success and the realisation of potential into gold medal-winning consistency.

"This year it's all about winning medals and titles, something I haven't done for many years, so hopefully this can be the springboard to many more things to come," Johnson-Thompson said. "I've got a busy year with Commonwealth Games and Europeans, so fingers crossed."