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Coverage in the Times and Guardian

Katarina Johnson-Thompson following mentor stride for stride

Article by Matt Dickinson, Chief Sports Correspondent, extracted from The Times, February 10th 2015


When philanthropist Barrie Wells supports underfunded British athletes, he always asks for something back. It might be time for his Box 4 Kids charity, which fills corporate seats with terminally ill kids. It could be school visits. But he had a different brainwave when Goldie Sayers, ten-times national javelin champion, was cut adrift by UK Athletics and rang asking for financial backing. Wells would oblige, he said, but on the condition that Sayers helped to turn Katarina Johnson-Thompson into the most dominant heptathlete in the world.

"A stroke of genius,” Johnson-Thompson says of the unique collaboration that, on Saturday, took Sayers from Newmarket to Liverpool to give Britain’s heptathlon star a second masterclass in javelin throwing. "To have a world-class athlete like Goldie trying to pass on her wisdom, it’s so simple but we’d never thought of it before.”

It is a simple idea but its brilliance cannot be overstated if it helps to put Johnson-Thompson on top of world and Olympic podiums over the next 18 months.

You do not have to dig deep into the numbers to understand the potential. At 22, Johnson-Thompson has already been ranked the world’s No 1 heptathlete but there is an obvious weakness in her formidable athletic armour. Across her favoured five events, her best results yield an average 1,096 points; in the two throwing disciplines, javelin and shot putt, that figure drops to 694.

When you consider that her personal best in javelin is 41.44 metres — Jessica Ennis-Hill threw 47.49 in her golden performance at London 2012 and Denise Lewis 50.19 on the way to gold in Sydney in 2000 — you can see the margin for improvement.

Adding five metres to Johnson-Thompson’s personal best would yield another 100 points at, say, the Rio Olympics but this is also about psychology, especially with javelin being the penultimate event of seven.

"I go into the javelin and everyone catches up, gains points or goes ahead of me and then I have to run my heart out in the 800 metres,” Johnson-Thompson says. "You can’t help but have it in the back of your head that you are going to lose points.”

She imagines the effect that it will have on her rivals if she can emerge this year with a new, improved distance. "Then it’ll be like, ‘God, she knows how to throw, let’s be scared,’” she says.

The goal is clear: making those gains is not so easy in an event that has little to do with brute force. Sayers says that throwing a javelin takes a combination of golfer’s swing and fast bowler’s acceleration, all about timing and rhythm.

"Like trying to hit the perfect golf drive off a 25 metres run up,” she says, "try too hard and you’re screwed.” A blend of aggression and relaxation is required.

At the first of their monthly sessions — with further help over telephone and video — Sayers was surprised given Johnson-Thompson’s obvious athleticism. "First time I saw her, it baffled me a little bit, ‘Why aren’t you throwing further?,’ ” she says. "Kat has got a good arm but there’s a lot of timing involved creating the bow for an arrow.”

One challenge is to use Johnson-Thompson’s prodigious leg strength, which makes her so exceptional in the high jump and long jump, but can bring its complications in the javelin run-up. "My natural inclination is to go up, my legs straightening — a jumpy motion,” she says.

"With Kat, it’s almost slowing the legs down because she applies so much force she can easily overstride for javelin,” Sayers says. "Her leg strength is ridiculous.”

Then there is the application of power through the 600 gram javelin so that it flies at the right trajectory. "You have to throw through the point of the javelin so it does not tail and drag,” Sayers says.

"It’s just about finding the right words to make it click. Mick Hill and Steve Backley [former national javelin champions] used to say that you should see a bum-hole in the sky.”

To make gains in throwing events could be crucial as competition intensifies towards the world championships in Beijing in August and next year’s Olympic Games. Ennis-Hill is returning to the sport after a break to have a child. Dafne Schippers will be back after a spell in sprints.

Forced out of the Commonwealth Games and European Championships by injury last year, Johnson-Thompson will hope to show that she is revitalised when she competes at the British Indoor Championships in Sheffield this weekend, trying to beat her own national high jump record as well as racing in the 60 metres hurdles. "I am in a really good place,” she says. "It’s going to be a really good year in heptathlon.” She welcomes the return of Ennis-Hill and the chance to compete against the Olympic champion.

Meanwhile, Sayers, 32, will be pursuing her own podium dreams thanks to this new arrangement. Fourth in Beijing in 2008, she had realistic hopes of a medal in London until injury struck as she threw a British record just before the Games.

Three operations later, with her elbow rebuilt with a graft taken from her wrist, she is convinced that she can be back as good as new but, to her dismay, UK Athletics stopped all funding during her time-out. Sayers was forced to dig into savings to pay her coach to help her out in his lunch hours.

Eventually, she put in that call to Wells, whose organisation unearthed Johnson-Thompson as an unknown 15-year-old and supported Ennis-Hill.

"That cold call was the most painful experience of my life,” Sayers recalls. "You think, ‘Why should anyone give you money, especially when you’ve never met them?’ But I got on well with Barrie and then he came up with the idea of me helping Kat.”

She likens the arrangement to Pay It Forward, the feelgood film starring Kevin Spacey, in which one good turn begets another and another — and an Olympic gold medal in this case if it all goes right.

Throwing down the gauntlet

Johnson-Thompson’s best throw of 41.44 metres in the javelin is a clear weakness. Her personal bests in the seven heptathlon disciplines are:

100m hurdles 13.41sec (1,063pts)

High jump 1.96m (1,184)

Shot put 12.49m (694)

200m 22.89sec (1,090)

Long jump 6.92m (1,145)

Javelin 41.44m (695)

800m 2min, 7.64sec (999)

That would yield a total of 6,870 points, though her best performance at any one event is 6,682 in Gotzis, Austria, in June 2014.

Ennis-Hill amassed a British record of 6,955 at London 2012, throwing 47.49 metres in the javelin.

Three women have broken the 7,000 barrier: Jackie Joyner-Kersee (world record of 7,291, with javelin of 45.66m), Carolina Kluft, of Sweden, (7,032, javelin 47.98m) and Larisa Turchinskaya, of Russia, (7,007, javelin unknown).

IMG help serve up a winner for Box4Kids!

Box4Kids were treated to brilliant views at the Statoil Masters Tennis in one of the Capitals most iconic venues, the Royal Albert Hall.

The Statoil Masters Tennis is a unique opportunity to relive the rivalries from some of the greatest tennis legends of all time with the likes of Tim Henman and Andy Roddick competing for the Masters title this year.

Three young tennis fans who are all coping with various illnesses and are currently receiving treatment at various hospitals in London, were able to remove the reminder of hospitals and appointments and replace it with watching the eventual winner of the tour and 2007 Olympic Gold medalist; Fernando Gonzalez beat Thomas Enqvist in 2 straight sets. 

The children enjoyed the day with a chosen guest and also had the pleasure of watching the 2007 Wimbledon mixed double Champion Jamie Murray, and former British Davis Cup player Ross Hutchins win their round in the doubles.

Parent, Donna Henry said;

"We would like to say a big THANK YOU for our first tennis experience at The Royal Albert Hall. You are a blessing and long may you continue to offer children from all walks of life the opportunity to experience, engage in and attend sporting events.”

With huge thanks to IMG for donating their box to Box4Kids.

Ultimate VIP experince for five deserving LCFC fans!

Box 4 Kids provided five young avid Leicester City fans who are all undergoing treatment for cancer with a well deserved VIP style experience in an executive box at Leicester City football club on Saturday.

The VIP box at Leicester City Football Club was generously donated to the Wells Sports Foundation by Caesars entertainment UK for the game against Sunderland on Saturday to host one of our unique Box 4 Kids events. It was unfortunate that no goals were scored during the 90 minute match, however, this certainly did not dampen the mood amongst the deserving children in the box, who cheered for their beloved Leicester City FC up until the very last minute.
 
The five youngsters were each able to bring along one guest to the Box 4 Kids event on Saturday, and all received the VIP treatment right from the very start. The children, guests and our Box 4 Kids hosts Tony and Marlene enjoyed a delicious three course meal and drinks before eagerly awaiting the kick off at 3pm. Leicester City did a great job in making the day special for children by arranging for their club mascot, Filbert Fox, to come and meet everyone, as well as providing the children with goody bags filled with sweet treats and Leicester City FC merchandise.
 
One parent explained how his 15 year old son, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in September 2014, was ‘in his element' during his time in the box at King Power Stadium. The 15 year old, who is determined to make it to a grade 1 professional football referee, was really appreciative of the VIP experience organised by the Wells Sports Foundation. The father added that the opportunity to share stories with other parents and young people in a similar position to them left his son feeling ‘much more at ease about the next path of his treatment'.
 
The Wells Sports Foundation is continuing to grow with more box holders coming forward to give up their box for a game or entertainment event. If you have a box and would like to work with The Wells Sports Foundation to help more children enjoy days like this then please get in touch with us.

Katarina helps to host Box 4 Kids

Barrie Wells and guest host Katarina Johnson-Thompson provided three seriously ill children with a VIP experience watching LFC play Chelsea in an executive box on Saturday.

The executive box at Anfield, which Barrie uses purely for our unique ‘Box 4 Kids’ scheme, was filled with three excited young LFC supporters last weekend eagerly awaiting for the match against Chelsea to kick off. Before watching the game the children and their guests were treated to a delicious three course meal in the comfort and amazing views that the executive box has to offer.


Liverpool athlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who represented Great Britain in the Heptathlon in London 2012 Olympic Games, was also at the box to help support Box 4 Kids and host the event. Katarina, who is also a huge LFC supporter, may have been disappointed with the 2-1 result, but nevertheless took pleasure in helping the children to enjoy their once-in-a-life-time experience at the game.


The Wells Sports Foundation aims to enrich the lives of seriously ill children through sport and entertainment with our Box 4 Kids Initiative. Thescheme iscontinuing to grow with many more box holders coming forward to give up their box for an event and work alongside the Wells Sports Foundation to help more children and a guest enjoy a much deserved treat.

Seriously ill children get the VIP treatment through Box 4 Kids last weekend

Through our unique Box 4 Kids initiative, the Wells Sports Foundation hosted two different Box 4 Kids events last weekend, providing very deserving young children with an unforgettable experience watching their favourite sports teams play at Alliance Park and King Power Stadium in true VIP style.

The children who attended the Saracens Vs Harlequins game on Sunday 2nd November have all been through an extremely tough time during their childhood, undergoing various treatments for different forms of cancer and heart conditions, and so Box 4 Kids provided these children and their families with a well and truly deserved VIP experience for them to treasure forever. We work in partnership with hospitals across the country, however for this particular game; the children attending were all patients from either, Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, Evelina Children's Hospital and The Royal Marsden. With huge thanks to Allianz who donated their box, helping to make all of this possible.
 
Despite the trauma these children and their families have fought through in recent years, the Saracens 25 - 20 victory against Harlequins certainly gave them something to smile about. The host of the event, Bob Schofield, explained how he felt humbled by the children's ability to get on with their lives despite their health set backs. Bob went on to describe the children as ‘examples to many who fail to cope with even minor disruptions to their lives'.
But that was not it, as we were also able to treat several more patients from the Royal Leicester Infirmary to watch Leicester City play West Bromwich Albion on Saturday 1st November. Caesars Entertainment generously donated their box at Leicester for Box 4 Kids which is always a fantastic VIP treat with great hospitality. Six children who are currently undergoing treatment for illnesses such as, T.Cell Lymphoma and Leukaemia at The Royal Leicester Infirmary enjoyed a delicious three course meal from the comfort and amazing views that the executive box has to offer, whilst also receiving a visit from club mascot Filbert Fox, along with goody bags filled with Leicester City merchandise and other sweet treats.
Although the team didn't come away with the win, Box 4 Kids was certainly a huge success with everyone thoroughly enjoying the day. Contact us if you want to help more children enjoy days like these by donating a box to the Wells Sports Foundation.

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