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Injured British heptathlete refuses help, finishes race

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Katarina Johnson-Thompson's medal hopes evaporated in an instant at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium on Wednesday, but she still found it in herself to cross the finish line. 

Coming out of the bend of the 200m event of the heptathlon, Johnson-Thompson fell to the track after suffering what was later deemed a calf injury. In obvious pain, she rose to her feet and refused a wheelchair. She hobbled forward, gaining strength as she went, and finished the race. 

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Johnson-Thompson, 28, had suffered a ruptured Achilles on her left leg late in 2020, which she believed was healed enough for her to compete in Tokyo. However, the calf injury on her right leg was deemed too severe for her to be able to continue in the event. 

"Unfortunately Katarina Johnson-Thompson sustained an injury to her right calf during the 200m and has had to withdraw from the heptathlon," British Athletics said in a statement. "To confirm, it is not a repeat of her recent Achilles injury which was on her left leg."

Katarina Johnson-Thompson fell to the track in pain. (Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images)
Katarina Johnson-Thompson fell to the track in pain. (Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images)

The heptathlon is among the most difficult events in the Olympics, requiring a wide range of skills across seven disciplines: 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin and 800m. The first four events were contested Wednesday, and Johnson-Thompson was in fifth place coming into the 200m. 

Johnson-Thompson, a colorful figure off the track — her Twitter bio reads "Chronically indecisive so I've adopted two surnames & the heptathlon" — was a medal favorite heading into the event. British commentators expressed sorrow and dismay at Johnson-Thompson's struggles, noting that she was one of the athletes hurt by the long COVID-induced delay. 

“She’s been such a victim to the past 18 months. She had the best year of her life in 2019, she was ready to go. When you’re in that position, going into an Olympic year, that’s the best place you can be – you just need to ride through the winter, maintain that form, and you’re at the Olympics," said Jessica Ennis-Hill, a gold medal-winning heptathlete for Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics. "But she’s had that 18-month layoff where it’s really hard to maintain that, how hard you push with training. The event is so grueling and it’s ended up in injury. It’s utterly, utterly devastating for her."

Technically, Johnson-Thompson was disqualified for leaving her lane. She crossed the finish line 68 seconds behind the seventh-place finisher. If nothing else, that was a small triumph, and a strong statement of willpower. 

Katarina Johnson-Thompson waves off help and begins to run to the finish line. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Katarina Johnson-Thompson waves off help and begins to run to the finish line. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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