Athletics: British Performance director relishing Jessica Ennis and Katarina Johnson-Thompson head-to-head

Jessica Ennis
Jessica Ennis
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The heptathlon showdowns between Katarina Johnson-Thompson and the returning Jessica Ennis-Hill will be “spectacular”, according to British Athletics performance director Neil Black.

Johnson-Thompson broke her fellow double-barrelled multi-eventer’s British pentathlon record to land gold at the European Indoor Championships in Prague, falling an agonising 13 points shy of the world record.

The 22-year-old was adamant afterwards, though, that she did not yet deserve to be called the Olympic champion’s equal and remained in awe of her.

Their battles over seven events this summer are set to be mouth-watering clashes, with the pair scheduled to go up against each other in Gotzis, Austria, at the end of May and, all being well, the World Championships in Beijing in August.

With 17-year-old Morgan Lake, who broke Johnson-Thompson’s British junior pentathlon record in Prague, another huge talent, Black is relishing an “exciting” summer.

“To think that they’re all going to be hopefully in Gotzis and they’re all hopefully going to be at the World Championships this year and the Olympics next year, it’s just a kind of magical time,” he said.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson

Katarina Johnson-Thompson

“And what comes from it is going to be spectacular.

“Three incredibly capable, high-performing (athletes), lovely personalities, great teams around them, all vying for medals in competitions - I can’t see that you can get much more exciting than that.”

Gotzis is due to be Ennis-Hill’s first seven-event competition since London 2012.

The 29-year-old is coming back to the sport following the birth of her first child and Black said the reports of her progress in training were very promising.

“She understands it’s a year of exploration, development back, hopefully to her best,” he said.

“All the feedback is great progression, so I think it’s real.”

Black said Johnson-Thompson’s desperate disappointment at missing out on the world record, a sign of her own sky-high expectations, was “brilliant” to see.

He added: “None of us know how good she can be, I think we’re going to find out this year.”

Great Britain left Prague with nine medals, but only two of them gold, with Richard Kilty the other champion in the 60 metres following a commanding win in 6.51 seconds.

Kilty won the world indoor title 12 months ago, but struggled to build on that success over 100m last summer.

Black said: “I think he was just awesome. I think he’s re-established himself, if he needed to, as a serious sprinting candidate.”

The 25-year-old is now training under Linford Christie and Black added: “I think they’re working well together, I think there’s a lot more to come.”

Black also praised 19-year-old Dina Asher-Smith’s major championship temperament and described her 60m silver and joint British record of 7.08secs as “fairytale-type stuff”.

Black said he was “pretty chuffed” to win nine medals, which were secured by a largely young and inexperienced team.

“I think we’ve re-established ourselves as a leading nation in Europe, we expect to get this type of medal tally,” he said. “Not too worried about whether they are gold silver or bronze at the moment, but the expectation for the future is that we’re looking for more golds.”

And he felt the strength in depth of the team augured well for the World Championships and the Olympics in Rio the following year.

“I think it does, but it’s a big tough world out there and there are a lot of people waiting to grab those medals,” he said.