Keely Hodgkinson 'has opportunity to step up', says legend Michael Johnson
Keely Hodgkinson must win the Olympics or World Championships to cement her status as British athletics’ next superstar, according to American icon Michael Johnson.
The 20-year-old, who is trained by Wigan duo Trevor Painter and his wife Jenny Meadows, announced herself on the world stage by winning 800m silver at the
Tokyo Olympics last year while still a teenager, before matching that result in this summer’s World Championships and Commonwealth Games.
She finally landed her first major outdoor title in August with 800m gold at the European Championships in Munich but sprinting royalty Johnson called for the Atherton star to kick on and top the podium at the events where all her competitors are in attendance.
“At her level, to be completely honest, you’ve got to win the World Championships and the Olympics,” said Johnson, speaking as an ambassador at the Professional Triathletes Organisation’s US Open in his hometown of Dallas.
“You've got to win the ones where everyone's there and she's medalled, which is great, especially at her young age.
“When you think about her career, the silver medal at the Olympic Games, the medal at the World Championships where everybody is there, is more impressive than the gold medal at the Europeans.
“That’s pretty impressive and it bodes well for the future once you medal at a global major championships - there's a debate as to what a major championship is, in my book it’s the World Championships or the Olympics where everyone is there.
“I think she really understands and has embraced the idea that she wants to be a world champion or Olympic champion and she has an opportunity.
“But there's some fierce competition out there and that's what fans want to see.”
Although Hodgkinson was delighted to shake off her tag as the nearly woman in Germany, she admitted defeat by eight hundredths of a second in Oregon to American Athing Mu will haunt her.
“The last two years I’ve got four major outdoor medals so I really can’t complain,” she said. “I was 0.08 away from being the world champion so that will play on my mind for the next year.”
One athlete who did end the season as world champion was Jake Wightman after an emotional 1500m win went viral on social media after it was called by his father, coach and stadium announcer Geoff.
And together with Hodgkinson, Johnson believes the duo can spearhead the next generation with the likes of Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill having retired.
He explained: “Jake had the best summer of his career and a lot of British fans are looking for a reason to watch as with Mo and Jess are gone, they are looking for that next generation.
“People like Keely Hodgkinson and Jake Wightman are great young athletes who are coming up.
“That’s really important for the sport to have those folks that can bring people in, not just because of who they are and that they win all the time, but because they're competitive in the sport.”
Michael Johnson was a special guest of the Professional Triathletes Organisation at the PTO US Open in Dallas. The PTO is a new sports body owned by the athletes and seeking to take the sport of triathlon to the next level. For more information, visit www.protriathletes.org