2020 Tokyo Olympics: Heptathlete Collapses on Track, Refuses Wheelchair Before Finishing Race

by Suzanne Halliburton

The athletic heroics in the Tokyo Olympics are on full display. So is the sportsmanship. But on Wednesday, we also saw grace in the face of aching disappointment.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson is a 28-year-old from Liverpool, England. She is the defending world champion in the heptathlon. It’s a collective event that’s deciding by seven different competitions. And it gives us the best overall female athlete in the world. The men compete for the decathlon championship.

The one crown Johnson-Thompson didn’t gave was the Olympic championship. It’s why she was competing at the Tokyo Olympics. Then something horrible — by athletic standards — happened to Johnson-Thompson.

She was running the 200 meters. And 10 seconds into her race, halfway through the sprint as she was rounding the turn towards the finish, she fell to the track. Johnson-Thompson ruptured her left Achilles tendon in late 2020. The Achilles links your calf to your heel. Injuries to the tendon can be abrupt and devastating.

Tokyo Olympics Medical Staff Rushed to Help Her. She Said No.

Tokyo Olympics medical staff quickly ran onto the track to treat Johnson-Thompson, who’d been on her back, covering her face with her hands. Her right leg already was taped to stabilize it from further injury. The medical staff brought her a wheelchair. Although she still was sitting on the track, she refused their help. She pulled herself up, and she did a hybrid trot/hop towards the finish line.

And like great Olympians do, she finished what she started. All alone, she got herself to the finish line. Team Great Britain posted a message for one of the country’s biggest stars:

“Heartbreaking. We’re all with you, Kat.”

Then, the official account updated Johnson-Thompson’s status. She was out of the Tokyo Olympics. She competed at the London Olympics in 2012, then in Rio in 2016. This year was supposed to be her time for a possible gold.

“Unfortunately Johnson-Thompson has withdrawn from the Tokyo 2020 heptathlon due to a calf injury sustained during the 200m,” the Great Britain Olympic team announced.

She almost made it through Wednesday. The 200 meters was the final event of the day for the heptathlon. Johnson-Thompson was in fifth place before she suffered the injury.

The women will finish Thursday to see who steps to the medal podium. Although everyone assumed it was her Achilles, she suffered an injury to her right calf. Team Great Britain later reaffirmed her injury status.

To confirm, it is not a repeat of her recent Achilles injury which was on her left leg.”

Because Johnson-Thompson left her assigned lane to finish the race, she was disqualified from the Tokyo Olympics.

Anouk Vetter of the Netherlands led the heptathlon through four events.

The Tokyo Olympics tweeted a clip of Johnson-Thompson finishing the 200 meters. She ended it with the grace of a champion.