World champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson on talent, potential and rapping Lizzo

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5 Minute Philosopher is a weekly series in which Stylist gets profound with people we love. What will the Olympic heptathlete make of our existential questions?

What is the meaning of life? 

To find out what makes you happy and do that.

What’s the difference between winning and losing? 

Not very much. As long as I’ve done everything I can in my heart to win, I’m OK with losing.

Where is your happy place?

 On a quiet bench in a park in Montpellier, France, where I live, reading a book after training.

Nature or nurture?

 Of course nature plays a part, but it’s what you bring that makes all the difference.

Is it more important to be liked or respected?

I’m not sure about the word ‘liked’ these days – we ‘like’ things on social media every day. Being respected seems much more of an achievement.

If you could be remembered for one thing what would it be?

I realise that what I do is about a performance, but the journey to the performance is way more important.

Who or what is your greatest love?

My two sausage dogs, Chorizo and Bronx. They live in Liverpool while I’m in France and I miss them so much.

When did you last lie?

I don’t really lie. I go quiet, or avoid the question.

Are you fatalistic?

Yes. Everything happens for a reason, and it’s up to you to take the positives.

What is your greatest fear?

Not achieving my full potential.

Burpees or push-ups? 

Burpees, all the way.

Protein or carbs? 

Carbs. I’m still dreaming about the mac and cheese I had recently at Berners Tavern in London.

What talent do you yearn for? 

I’d love to be able to sing, although I’m actually better at rapping. My karaoke songs are all Nicki Minaj and Lizzo, although I do have a soft spot for Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

Do you like to be complimented? 

I find compliments so awkward. I’m probably more comfortable with showing vulnerability. I just think everyone is human, so why don’t we show that more.

Do you have a high pain threshold?

Stubbing your toe is a pain that lasts about four seconds. When I finish a training session, I’m on the floor for half an hour. But I actually think the worst pain is a sports massage: I can’t cope with people sticking their elbows into my glutes and calves.

What book do you recommend most to others? 

The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters. He’s a psychologist who’s written about learning to be in control of your “inner chimp” and it’s helped me rationalise my thoughts.

The Chimp Paradox
The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters helps Katarina rationalise her thoughts.

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? 

The reality of not achieving what you think you can achieve, and having the patience to deal with that.

What food sums up happiness? 

I live in France, so there’s a lot of choice. I’m a sucker for an almond croissant.

What have you never understood? 

French. Well, I’m at the point where I understand it, but my brain doesn’t think quickly enough to speak it back.

What is the one thing you want to know before you die?

How to speak French [laughs].

Running shorts or running knickers? Shorts for training, knickers for special occasions [like competing]. There’s more freedom, so you can extend your stride in them a bit more. 

Lucozade or chardonnay? 

Chardonnay on a Friday. Although in all honesty, I’m more of a merlot girl.

Katarina is the current Commonwealth and World heptathlon champion, after she set a new British record and personal best at the World Athletics Championships last year. She went to school and is still best friends with actor Jodie Comer.

Photography: Neil Bedford; Hair: Fabio Nogueira at Frank Agency using Virtue Labs; Make-Up: Caroline Barnes at Frank Agency using Max Factor 

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