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Katarina Johnson-Thompson is the coming force in British athletics. After having her 2014 cut short by injury, she returns refreshed and ready to get back among the medals
Katarina Johnson-Thompson

Nobody wants to get injured. But, for Katarina Johnson-Thompson, the timing couldn’t have been much worse.

Midway through what she admits was a breakthrough season, the British heptathlete had won her first senior event and was ready to make waves at the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships. With Olympic golden girl Jessica Ennis-Hill still resting after the birth of her first child, the Liverpool starlet known to most as KJT was ready to make her mark on the big stage when we last spoke to her back in July.

Fast-forward two weeks, and injury to her left foot – vital for her high jump and long jump in particular – forced her to withdraw from the two major events on her calendar, and cut her season short.

“We probably could have risked it, and we might have got out the other side of the long jump in the Europeans,” Johnson-Thompson explains to us when we catch up with her following her enforced break from competition. “But it was more of a long-term view of not wanting to crock myself completely.”

With a World Championships in Beijing to look forward to in August, not to mention the small matter of a Rio Olympics on the horizon next year, her decision to avoid risk makes perfect sense.

And, clearly, it has helped. Body and mind fully refreshed, Johnson-Thompson returned to action with a bang at the Northern Indoor Championships in Sheffield last weekend, smashing her 2014 best in the long jump and equaling her PB in the 60m hurdles. That it was all done in Jess Ennis-Hill’s hometown won’t have been lost on anyone…

Jess is set to return at the Hypo-Meeting in Gotzis in May this year. Are you ready for the media hype comparing the two of you?
“Yeah, it’s already started! It’s going to be good, though. I think everyone’s been wanting and waiting for Jess to come back for a long time. She’s still the reigning Olympic champion, so she’s going to do wonders for the events. It’s very exciting for her to be back.”

Does that create extra motivation for you?
“Not really. It’s all about the individual in the heptathlon, because there are so many events. I’m sure she has all her own challenges coming back and I have my own challenges, so it’s definitely all about the individual things you have to achieve. There are so many other girls coming up at the same time, too. I don’t have time to focus on any one rival.”

Has Jess given you any advice?
“She hasn’t really given me any, but London 2012 helped a lot. It’s incredible; she had so much pressure on her at her home Olympics, but she came through and won. When I was in the Olympics alongside her, I was using the same physios, I was in the same rooms between events and I did learn a lot just observing. It has helped me going into the Olympics. Everyone saw Jess win. And, even though I was in the same competition, I was still a spectator. I saw her win up close and I think it’s helped me in that respect – just seeing how calmly she went from each event and moved on.”

Do you expect her to come back fighting?
“Definitely. You know Jess Ennis-Hill!”

Going back to last season, just how disappointing was it to get that injury after such a strong start to the year?
“Well, everything I was doing was leading up to the Commonwealth Games. My full focus was that, so to pull out of that was devastating – then pulling out of the Europeans meant I had pulled the plug on the whole season. That was hard.”

Do you still see last year as a success?
“Yeah, I think it was definitely a big season. My coach said to me when I had to pull out that if there weren’t two major championships coming up, I’d be the happiest girl in the world with how my season had gone. It was a breakthrough year and the heptathlon went really well. So it was a good season.”

It’s a new season. How much are you looking forward to getting back into regular competition?
“I am looking forward to getting back into it, but last year I’d already done all this to lead up to the major championships – so now I’m like: ‘Ugh, I just want to be at the peak of the season and competing.’ I’m definitely excited to be healthy, fit and ready to compete again though. So I’m not complaining!”

Is it hard to motivate yourself for the smaller events?
“It’s not hard at all, no, because last summer I would have given anything to compete. It’s just like going through all the different stages again. It will all be worth it for the majors.”

It’s the Rio Olympics next year...
“It’s mad that you said that. Next year! That sounds crazy.”

Are you doing everything with one eye on Brazil?
“Not really. This year is this year. I’ve got to think of the next major championship coming up. I work better when I focus on big events leading up to the majors, so I’m just thinking all about the European Indoor Championships in Prague. Once that’s done, it’ll be all about Gotzis, then about Beijing. Next year, it will suddenly be winter training for the Olympics – but that’s in the back of my mind right now.”

So you are targeting Prague in March?
“Yeah, I’ve been desperate to do a pentathlon since my last one in 2012, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m not planning to cut back on any events or take it easy, though. I think the injury was just bad luck, and maybe a bit of nutrition and possibly the track in Glasgow [at the Diamond League meet] being quite hard. It was bits of everything, so I don’t think you can plan around injuries.”

You are going to be under more pressure this year, having won Gotzis last year. Do you enjoy that pressure?
“Definitely. I do enjoy the big events, and that pressure comes with it. I’m going to go into this year like it’s anyone’s to take. That works best for me, so that’s how I’m going to approach it.”

Were you always sporty as a kid?
“Yeah. My mum was a dancer and she used to travel around the world doing the showgirl dancing and stuff. When I was still in nappies, she put me in a dance class and they actually turned me away and said come back when she can walk. That’s a true story! As soon as I could walk, though, I wanted to put on shorts and football kits. My mum was devastated, but I gave up dancing when I was nine to go and play football. I got trials for Liverpool or Everton; they wanted me to be in goal but I didn’t want to do that. I gave up football but my mum said I had to have a hobby – I eventually found athletics and stuck with it.”

Your mum didn’t push you back into the dancing, then?
“No, it was really strange. When I gave up dancing, my mum and the dance teacher were like crying and saying: ‘No, please stay.’ She wanted to give me private lessons because I was meant to be auditioning for the Royal Ballet the year after – I was a year too young. She was devastated when I gave up, and she wasn’t really into athletics when I first got into it. But now you should see her – she’s like the biggest athletics fan going!”

What event did you start with?
“It was always the high jump to start with. I used to go to high jump lessons once a week, and then I started to add things on. So I was going to the track once a week to do high jump, and there was a running session straight after, so I started doing that too. Suddenly I’d do two running sessions, and training twice a week, so I just started to add things on.”

And you ended up doing seven events. What made you choose the hardest event going?
“I used to do the high jump and running sessions, then the long jump coach saw me do high jump and she was like: ‘I want you for my long jump.’ It got to a stage where I was running from event to event. I wasn’t really enjoying it. I wanted to concentrate on just one, but then my mum found an event where you went from one to the other together and it wasn’t a rush. That’s when I first found the multi-sports. That was the pentathlon, because I was too young for the heptathlon. And I really enjoyed it. I came third nationally, then the year after I came back and broke the under-15 record.”

So it wasn’t a competitive edge that you wanted to win everything?
“I just wanted to carry on doing all the events, really. Maybe I’m just indecisive!”

London 2012 put you on the radar. Is it still an experience that you look back on fondly?
“Definitely. When I look back at all the videos, I just laugh. I’m still set in that mindset. When people ask me how old I am, I still say 19 and stuff [Johnson-Thompson was 22 earlier this month] – it’s like I haven’t really moved on from 2012. It was a great experience for me. Obviously I’m never going to experience anything like that again – a home Olympics is incredible for any athlete – but it’s definitely going to help me in the future for Rio.”

Do more youngsters recognise you?
“That’s where I’ve noticed it more. When I go to competitions, it’s like: ‘Can I have a selfie?’ There are no autographs any more, it’s all selfies. I get a lot of young girls saying they want to be heptathletes and do athletics. That’s nice.”

What are you like on competition day?
“I’m quite chilled out. I get into a state of concentration because I know what I’ve got to do – but I don’t get all psyched up or overhyped. I just like to relax. That’s how I perform my best. I do concentrate – it’s not like I’m not focused. I’m just trying to stay calm.”

No secret recipe for success then, like Usain Bolt and his chicken nuggets?
“No! Not that I’ve discovered, anyway. I like espressos, though. They keep me awake.”

In your event, does it help being young?
“No, it doesn’t actually. That’s why it was such a huge achievement for me to make the Olympics in 2012. In the heptathlon you tend to peak at 26 or 27, when you eventually get that plateau of all your events. When you’re a young athlete, you might get a PB but you tend not to get that consistency. I am still young, so when I’m a bit older I can hopefully push for major medals.

Katarina is exclusively represented by MTC (UK) Ltd. For all enquiries emma@mtc-uk.com

English football’s bright young star talks exclusively to Sport

It started as a trickle.

A Europa League winner away in Cyprus. The third goal in a comfortable Capital One Cup victory at home to Nottingham Forest. The trickle became a torrent, and then a flood. A Thursday night hat-trick. Two against the league leaders, including a commanding run and drive. A towering header to win the north London derby – his second of the game. 

Tottenham’s Harry Kane is a phenomenon. He has emerged this season as one of England’s brightest attacking prospects. For our interview he’s back where it all began: at Ridgeway Rovers, the youth football club that helped launch the careers of David Beckham, Andros Townsend and Kane himself.

“It’s great to come back and see some of the younger kids who will hopefully one day be playing for a big club like Spurs,” says Kane after watching the current members of the club working with trainee coaches from the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation. “Obviously David Beckham used to play here, and he was a big idol of mine growing up. So the fact that he played for Ridgeway made it even more special that I was playing for them as well.”

Beckham never popped his head in while Kane was on the books at Ridgeway, but he did have a brilliant childhood encounter with another footballer. “I was in the street with my mates just playing football,” Kane remembers. “Just having a little muck around. This Range Rover pulled up, and Jermain Defoe got out and said: ‘Do you mind if I have a little kickabout?’ He was probably there about half an hour, just messing about with us. I was quite in awe, quite starstruck. But it was great for him to do that and something I’ll definitely never forget.”

Old-fashioned qualities

With his hair slicked back and wearing a classic football shirt for our photoshoot, Kane looks like a figure from English football folklore: a classic number nine straight from a pre-war cigarette card. But he is not just an old-fashioned goalscorer. There’s much more to his game.

He’s been compared to Alan Shearer, but Kane grew up admiring a more artful breed of forward – Tottenham’s own Teddy Sheringham. “I can see a bit of both in me, which isn’t bad, to be honest,” he says. “To be compared to someone like Alan Shearer is very special. He’s the all-time Premier League top goalscorer. If I score anywhere near as many as he did, it wouldn’t be a bad career.

“I feel sometimes I play in both of those roles for Spurs, and I see little bits that they had in my game. Shearer was a great finisher, and I like to think I’m a good finisher. Sheringham brought others into play, so you can definitely say I have some similar attributes. Hopefully I can do well and continue to score goals, and one day people will say that this player is like Harry Kane.”

Kane is a thoroughly modern breed of striker, and he’s much more comfortable in modern surroundings. After the shoot, he swaps Tottenham’s 1961 FA Cup final shirt for a hoody bearing the logo of another winning team: the New England Patriots.

Kane is a huge American football fan. One of his dogs is named Brady, after the Patriots’ quarterback, while the other is (coincidentally) called Wilson – sharing a name with the opposing quarterback (Russell) in this year’s Super Bowl. It’s a few days after the Super Bowl when we meet him, and Kane is buzzing from the result. He stayed up with Brady and Wilson to watch the Seahawks blow their last-minute chance to win the game.

The 21-year-old has his own experience of painful late reversals, as he recalls when we ask him for his worst moment in football.

“When I was on loan at Leicester, we were playing against Watford in the playoff game,” he recalls. “Anthony Knockaert had a penalty to take us to Wembley. He missed it, and they went up the other end and scored from the rebound. It was crazy, because it had happened in a Brentford game the week before. So for it to happen twice in a week…”

Kane might have been robbed of the opportunity to appear at Wembley by that last-gasp goal, but he’ll get his chance this weekend in the Capital One Cup final against Chelsea. It’s a repeat of “a very special day out” – Kane was in the Wembley stands in 2008 when Spurs beat Chelsea after extra-time to win their most recent trophy.

“I was there watching Spurs beat Chelsea on the big stage, and winning trophies,” he says. “It was something I grew up dreaming of doing, and now I have the opportunity.”

Kane scored twice and won a penalty against Chelsea on New Year’s Day; a powerful performance, but was it his best in a Tottenham shirt? “I think so,” he says. “So far. It was a game I’ll always remember. Against a top team like Chelsea, to be able to score two goals myself and five as a team, it showed how well we played that night. It was a very special night for me, the players, the fans, everyone.”

One of their own

Kane is a local lad, and a Tottenham fan – something that has greatly endeared him to the White Hart Lane faithful, who loudly proclaim the forward as ‘one of their own’.

“My family are big football fans, and they used to take me over there,” he explains. “I’m sure they’re as proud as I am that I’m playing for Spurs.”

“Whenever I was playing in Europe or in the cups, I was scoring. So I knew I just had to keep my head down and I’d get the chance in the Premier League”

Kane wears the number 18 shirt previously occupied by Jurgen Klinsmann and Jermain Defoe, and has inherited their clinical touch. The latter even bequeathed his shirt to Kane: “When Defoe was leaving, he said: ‘You’ve got to have that number 18 shirt, because it’s a goalscoring shirt.’”

Kane’s first senior game for Spurs was “a very emotional night”, he says: “It was obviously a great feeling to be walking out that tunnel at White Hart Lane, and I’ve been able to do it more often now, and hopefully I’ll continue to do it for a long time.” His favourite terrace chant, says Kane, is ‘He’s one of our own’:

“Especially after that Chelsea game – it was the loudest I’ve heard it, which was very special to me.”

The chants have only got louder since we spoke to Kane. We suspect his answer to his best moment for Spurs may have changed too, after a match-winning performance against local rivals Arsenal. Kane has certainly vindicated his manager Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to give him a regular starting place – but did he have to keep knocking on the manager’s door to get the chance?

“I just had to keep doing what I was doing,” he says. “Whenever I was playing in Europe or in the cups, I was scoring. So I knew I just had to keep my head down and I’d get the chance in the Premier League.”

Rush goalie

Kane’s rise to prominence has not been straightforward. He worked hard to make his mark on loan in the lower leagues, with varying degrees of success.

“I went to Leyton Orient when I was 17 and scored five goals in nine games,” he says. “Then Millwall when I was 18, scored nine goals in 27 games. They were very good loans for me. Norwich and Leicester were maybe not as good as I wanted them to be [a combined two goals in 18 appearances]. But it’s still an experience on how to deal with not playing as well and being on the bench, and I think it helped me.”

Kane could well be out on loan again this season were it not for Tim Sherwood. “I think sometimes there are a lot of good players who just don’t get the chance to showcase themselves on the big stage, which is unfortunate,” says Kane when we ask whether it’s difficult for young English players to break through.

“I was quite lucky. Tim Sherwood first of all played me [regularly] in the Premier League. I knew Tim from the development squad, and we had a great relationship. He threw me in when maybe other managers wouldn’t have. Maybe that’s what a few more young strikers coming through need.”

“We won the game 5-1 in the end so it didn’t really matter – but yeah, I probably won’t be putting the gloves on again for a while!”

His breakthrough moment this season was arguably the hat-trick he scored in a Europa League game at White Hart Lane. Two weeks later he had his starting place. It was a performance given extra excitement by a brief stint in goal after Hugo Lloris was dismissed. “When I was really young, I had a trial for Ridgeway as a goalkeeper, and they wanted to take me as a goalkeeper,” he says. “But I got a bit bored and wanted to go out on the pitch. It was a good decision in the end, especially after what happened this season!”

Kane let a low free-kick slip through his fingers at the near post. “I was quite looking forward to it,” he says when we ask what was going through his head as he donned the goalkeeper’s jersey and gloves against Asteras.

“I’d scored a hat-trick anyway, so I was buzzing from that, and I actually go in goal in training sometimes. I’m quite good. We won the game 5-1 in the end, so it didn’t really matter. But yeah, I probably won’t be putting the gloves on again for a while!”

Striking stats

There’s no doubt about the position Kane will be playing in on Sunday – he’ll lead the line against the defence he terrorised on New Year’s Day. But if he had to choose between lifting the Capital One Cup or a Champions League spot, which would he go for?

“To win a trophy for a club like Spurs would be something very special, but we want to try and get into the Champions League too, so we’re focused on doing the best we can in every competition.”

He has sensed the anticipation in the area building as the Wembley date with Chelsea draws closer. “There are a lot of Spurs fans around this sort of area, and – especially this season now we’ve got to Wembley – you feel that little buzz in the air around the place.”

Kane still lives locally with his girlfriend, 10 minutes from his family, who he says have been the biggest influence on his career. Apart from watching American football, he spends his time playing golf and, inevitably for a 21-year-old footballer, on the PlayStation. “I play FIFA and Madden a lot,” he says, referring to the NFL video game franchise. “I play as Tottenham quite a bit on FIFA and I always put myself on. Hopefully my stats might have gone up a bit!”

In a triumph for investigative journalism, we fired up the PS4 to have a look. His form has seen Kane’s virtual rating increase from a 68 to a 77, but what stats does he think have changed in real life?

“I think I’ve got more physical,” he says. “I’ve got fitter, stronger, faster, which has helped me. And I’m always working on my finishing as well. I think it’s something natural as I’ve got older, but we’ve been working a lot on it in pre-season with the new manager – a lot of time spent in the gym, so that has definitely been part of it.”

His performances have caught the eye of England manager Roy Hodgson, who has all but confirmed that Kane will get his first senior call-up when the squad is named for the games against Lithuania and Italy. The striker has been an integral part of the youth set-up for England at all age levels, and will probably be going to the European Under 21 Championship in the Czech Republic in the summer. “I’m really looking forward to it,” he says. “It’s going be a great tournament, we’ve got a great side and we’ve got a good chance.”

Kane recently signed a new contract with Spurs that lasts until 2020, and the goals keep going in. He’s at 24 so far for the season, in all competitions: “I’ve set myself a new target in my head. I won’t tell you what it is, but I’ll tell you if I get there.”

Right now, no matter what that target is, you get the feeling that Kane is able.

Harry Kane was speaking at the home of Ridgeway Rovers, where he made a surprise visit to his old youth team to assist in a training session delivered by coaches from the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation

Sport meets the first woman to have taken part in a Formula 1 weekend for more than 20 years
Susie Wolff

“I’m not out there to prove a point about women. I’m just out there for Susie Wolff”

“You can’t drive an F1 car if you’re not good enough,” says Susie Wolff. “If you don’t have enough talent, if you’re not capable enough, you just won’t survive.”

The 32-year-old Scot is the official test driver for Williams, one of the most storied teams on the Formula 1 grid, and one going through something of a renaissance after years of struggle. Wolff asks us: “Have you been in the Williams museum?” We have. It’s where the cars of Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and other legends of the sport are kept on display.

“It makes you shiver looking at the history of that team,” says Wolff, whose name could yet join those greats in the museum. “We spent too long in the doldrums and it just lifts a whole team when you’re quick again and getting podiums.”

Williams finished third in the constructors’ championship last season. The team made more history by inviting Wolff to drive their car in a practice session at the British Grand Prix, although this was frustratingly cut short by “the engine blowing up”. This year, her role has been expanded to include two sessions in free practice at Grands Prix, and two test days. That includes one this week, in which she has been helping the team prepare and set up the car for the 2015 season.

“The second test is where we do a lot of hard work getting the data we need,” Wolff explains. “I have a very full day planned.”

Her time in the car (“the best part of my job”) is, however, limited. Wolff says it has been the hardest thing to adjust to in moving up to F1: “The issue is, when you’re only the test driver, you’re not in the car as much. So you have to work twice as hard to get ready on fitness and preparation, so that when you jump in you can perform. In some ways that’s even harder when you’re just not in the car enough.”

“I was only ever offered one chance of driving the F1 car,” Wolff explains as she describes her first experience of the top level of motorsport. She was given 10 laps at Silverstone, and a target time. She made it on the last lap.

“The car is the most advanced racing car in the world,” she says. “It’s a dream to drive. The performance is incredible. How late you can brake? How much downforce do you have? You really have to spend the first few laps just dialling your brain into how quickly everything happens. At that speed, it’s very unforgiving.”

That test led to the young driver test – an official event where teams can put potential candidates through their paces – and then to the ‘development driver’ role she took up for Williams last year.

It’s the latest stage in a journey that started in Oban, on the west coast of Scotland. “My parents have a motorbike dealership so I had my first motorbike when I was two,” says Wolff. “I loved speed. I loved driving the motorbike, and I had an older brother who is only 18 months older – so anything he could do I could do. And we used to follow my dad around while he raced. My brother and I would always be playing on little go-karts when he was racing, and for my eighth birthday my dad bought me a go-kart. And that was really the start of it.”

Now, Wolff is based in Switzerland where she lives with husband Toto. He is the executive director of Mercedes F1 and owns a 10 per cent stake in Williams. Her Scottish accent is liberally scattered with German vowels from years racing in Europe, which lends her voice a slightly menacing tone when she says: “I’m big on revenge.” She follows it up by laughing, because she’s talking about her favourite film – The Count of Monte Cristo – and admits a fondness for TV box sets.

“I really try to convince myself that I’m just a normal woman,” says Wolff. “So, away from the race track, we just do the normal things.”

“It was frightening first of all,” Wolff recalls when we ask whether she took to karting straight away. “The other karts were much quicker, they were hitting me as I was going past and I certainly didn’t set the world alight with my talent. But I persevered, kept going and got better. I never noticed that I was one of only a few girls doing it because, at that age, you just live for the moment; you don’t recognise things like that.

“I loved it with a passion, but it was never more than a hobby until I got taken to watch a Formula Three race at Donington Park, which Jenson Button won. And that’s when it clicked in my head that I wanted to become a racing driver.”

She soon became competitive in karting, and raced against the likes of Lewis Hamilton before moving up to Formula Renault, where she shared a podium with the two-time world champion.

“I couldn’t open my champagne!” she exclaims, remembering how Hamilton had to help her with the cork before she could pour the bubbly over his head in celebration. “The same thing happened to me at the Race of Champions with David Coulthard! We’d made it on to the podium and I couldn’t open my champagne bottle. I need to practise!”

“The hardest part is trying to earn respect when I come into a team”

The lack of practice perhaps stems from a difficult spell in DTM – the German touring car series home to many former and future F1 drivers. Wolff sums up her seven years in DTM, where she struggled to get results, as “incredibly, incredibly tough”.

“I gave it everything I had and didn’t come away with anywhere near the success I expected,” she explains. “It was very demoralising, and it wasn’t until I actually made the decision to leave and actually drove the F1 car that I realised – this is why I’m a racing driver, this is why I love it.

“In DTM, in the end, I lost that massively because as an athlete you need some kind of success to show you’re doing things right and that all the hard work is for something. For me in DTM, it was just too long in the wilderness fighting for results.”

“I was driving a pink car in DTM.” With a hint of exasperation, Wolff recounts her time racing in Germany. “I was like a running target on the racetrack.” The pink car was a sponsor’s idea, but Wolff feels it undermined her attempts to be taken seriously as a driver.

“The hardest part for me initially is trying to earn the respect when I come into a team,” she says when we ask if she has encountered any prejudice as she’s risen through the predominately male world of motorsport.

“You’re always going to get characters in the paddock who are very vocal about being against women in F1. I’m never going to change that, and it doesn’t bother me to be honest. Something I come up against a lot is: ‘Well, it hasn’t been done before, so why are you gonna do it? How are you different?’

“There’s this stereotype that it’s not possible, so you’re fighting against that all the time. Many people think I’m not going to be strong enough; that I don’t have the mental capacity; that I don’t last the race distance; that I didn’t achieve enough in the junior formulas to be given the chance. But the truth is it’s not how you get there, it’s getting there. And, once you’ve got there, you’ve got to take the opportunity with both hands.”

The critics point to Wolff’s record in DTM and her single-seater inexperience (she lacks the FIA Super Licence required to race in F1) and ask whether she has been given the chance at Williams only because she is a woman. But they forget that F1 is not, and has never been, purely a meritocracy. Pastor Maldonado, for example, remains in the sport not just because of his racing talent, but also because he brings millions of dollars of sponsorship money to his team.

“The more I’ve been in this sport, the more I’m a believer that it’s about getting the right package,” says Wolff. “You can’t expect to get into Formula 1 based just on your talent because there are a lot of talented drivers. You’ve got bring the complete package to the team – whether that’s through a sponsor you bring with you, or the support of your country, or your character.”

Does having a unique selling point make it easier to get an F1 seat?

“For sure,” says Wolff. “It’s all about USPs. If you have something no one else has, it puts you in a stronger position. The fact that Williams has a woman running the team [Claire Williams is deputy team principal] and the fact that I’m here is a USP. And it undoubtedly helps us as a team. But it’s not something that was engineered that way. Claire is in her job because she is very good at what she does. If she wasn’t, the team wouldn’t have finished third in the constructors’ championship. And, if I wasn’t good enough, I wouldn’t be in the car. It’s as simple as that. It takes a lot before they even let you out in the car – even before I got my first ever test they tested me again, again, again in the simulator to make sure that I was of a standard they felt was good enough to get in the F1 car.”

Wolff has shown that she is on the pace in her all-too-brief stints in an F1 car. She finished just over two-tenths of a second behind Williams teammate Felipe Massa in her first day of testing the team’s 2015 car.

“There was no real role model for me when I was growing up,” says Wolff, although she did have posters of fellow Scot David Coulthard decorating her childhood bedroom. And a membership card for the DC fan club, which must be a difficult thing to admit to.

“But I’m a great believer that it’s not about having one clear role model, it’s about taking different bits from different people,” she explains. “I was incredibly lucky that I had very strong women in my family, and great support from my parents. They said to me: ‘If you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything.’ The problem now is that there just aren’t enough little girls karting for the best to rise to the top. And there’s not enough girls karting because there aren’t enough role models to show girls who have a passion for motorsport it’s something they can do.”

Wolff thinks that recent changes in F1 make it more likely that we will see a woman on the grid: “Five or six years ago, it would have been hellish tough. But the way the sport is developing, where the driver has to be small, weight is so important, the cockpits are tiny... it is all playing in the right direction.”

But will it be her? “That’s the plan,” says Wolff. “I’m gonna keep going as long as I’m successful. As long as I’m good enough to keep my place, as long as I can bring something to the table, then I will keep giving it everything I’ve got. And, when I see that I’ve hit the end of the road, I will be the first to turn around and say: ‘Okay, my time is up.’”

Even if she doesn’t make it on to the grid, the presence of Wolff in F1 is inspiring young girls to take an interest in motorsport.

“It certainly warms me to see little girls dressed up as racing drivers and going to school as Susie Wolff because they think that’s a viable option for them,” she says. “That’s definitely a positive. But I always say I’ve got so much more to achieve. Don’t let me be a role model yet.”

Alexis Sanchez’s annoying habits, London’s best Spanish food and why Arsenal envy no one: Sport picks the brain of in-form midfield maestro Santi Cazorla
Santi Cazorla

What has Alexis Sanchez brought to Arsenal this season?
“He’s the best signing in the Premier League. There were plenty of good signings this summer – like Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas – but Alexis Sanchez has been huge for us. He’s ambitious, he wants to get better with every training session, and it was positive for him to leave Barcelona. He’s now playing with another mindset and he’s playing fantastically.”

Does he work as hard in training as we see him do in matches?
“Of course, Alexis Sanchez is as intense and annoying [laughs] in training as he is on the pitch. He’s so into football that he doesn’t want training to finish. Sometimes the manager is calling it off because training is over and Alexis is always kind of sad, because he loves to play football. His work ethic is a really positive influence for all of us.”

Which player has influenced you the most in your career?
“In the Spanish national team, Andres Iniesta and David Silva are two players who catch my eye and who I try to learn from. When I was younger at club level, I played for Villarreal – and I had a teammate who played differently to all of the rest. That was Juan Roman Riquelme – who retired just this year, by the way. I learned so much from him.”

The Spanish national team had a tough World Cup after an incredible run of success. How close do you feel you are to getting it right again now?
“Well, it’s really tough to know. Obviously there has been some changes within the Spanish team. David Villa, Xabi Alonso, Xavi Hernandez and Carles Puyol no longer play – so there are some newcomers in our team. I think that those new players will contribute with their positive attitude and their skills, but we need some time to integrate all this together and to start flourishing again.”

You played in Spain until 2012, when you moved to Arsenal and London. Do you like living here or do you miss home?
“I enjoy London a lot, it’s an amazing city – and I also get a lot of joy from playing the Premier League style of football. Also, it’s a great chance for my kids and for my family to get a new experience by living here.”

This is crucial, Santi: have you found any good Spanish restaurants in London?
“Yes, I go to plenty of Spanish restaurants – I used to go a lot with my girlfriend when I first arrived. It’s something that I recommend you do. There are some very good Spanish restaurants in London, like Cambio de Tercio, like Iberica, like [Café] Espana. I suggest you go there and grab some food.”

Suggestions noted. Back to the football: you’re renowned as a two-footed player – is that a result of nature or nurture?
“I have to say I’m lucky to be both-footed. I think I was born with that skill. But at the same time, my managers – ever since I was in the youth stages of football – they just demand me to work on that; to play with both feet.”

“I think our squad is as good as Chelsea, Manchester City – we have the quality to fight with them”

January’s 2-0 win against Manchester City was seen as one of Arsenal’s – and your own – best performances of the season. What went so well in that game?
“Before that game, I said that we had to play the perfect game to beat Manchester City. Last season, we lost that game and lost it badly – 6-3 was the final score. But we learned from it. To beat them this time, what we did was to defend together, to be united, to help each other. We were focused and we showed togetherness. We were really solid, especially at the back – and then when we had the ball, we used it really well. That game is sort of an example of what we have to do.”

How do you achieve that level of performance again?
“What we have to do is show more regularity. Sometimes we play really good games and the game after, we don’t play as good. We need to be consistent and play like that for a long period.”

Arsenal tend to be at the business end of both the Champions League and Premier League – but what do you need to step up and win one of those competitions?
“The key is belief. We are a good team, but when we played the FA Cup final last season, I could feel among the fans and among the club, some kind of fear to lose. That is something that we should remove from our minds now. Personally, I think that our squad is as good as Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City or Manchester United. We don’t envy their squads and we have the quality to fight with them face to face. It’s down to us to make that step forward.”

Monaco are next in the Champions League. What do you know about them?
“We’re kind of happy with the draw. We could have faced Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich – those are really hard teams to beat. But Monaco are also a good team. We played against them last summer in the Emirates Cup and they beat us at home. Radamel Falcao [who scored the only, decisive goal] is not there any more, obviously, but they are still doing well in their league. We are confident ahead of this tie, but we’re not underestimating them.”

How do you relax away from football?
“I spend a lot of time with my family. I’ve got two kids – a boy who’s five years old and a daughter who’s two years old. You have to take into consideration that winter here is hard! You don’t feel like going out a lot.”

If your eldest is five, does he understand that it’s quite cool that his dad is a professional footballer?
“Yeah, it’s crazy! He knows that I am an Arsenal player and he’s absolutely mad about it. I feel like I have double training every day: one here with the club and another one at home, because he plays a lot of PlayStation and he chooses Arsenal and knows every player.”

Please tell us that he always plays you in his Arsenal team...
“I stay on the bench. Sometimes the game itself puts me on the bench for no reason! My son is asking me: ‘Why, Daddy, you are always on the bench?’ I do not know how to answer.”

If you weren’t a professional footballer, would you still play for fun?
“My life is football. I am lucky to be a professional. But I think if I wasn’t, I would still play for a local team. Actually, this is what my brother does. He’s not a professional football player, but he plays in my region, in Asturias [northwest Spain], in lower football categories. If you are a football fan, if you enjoy the sport and you love it, then you play – no matter what."

Midfield Maestro Santi Cazorla wears the new PUMA evoSPEED 1.3 football boot

The open water swimming champ quashes the horse’s head rumours and admits an aversion to apples
Keri-Anne Payne

The open water swimming champ takes our very special Q&A...

Who would you want to play you in a film about your life?
“It would have to be someone who doesn’t mind getting stung by jellyfish and stuff like that – an action woman. Maybe Angelina Jolie when she did all the Tomb Raider stuff.”

Have you ever been starstruck?
“Me and my mum got to meet Elton John at a SportsAid concert. It was the most surreal experience. We got a photo – it’s horrendous because I look like a totally starstruck six-year-old. He’s a really big sports fan, so when I was introduced to him he said: ‘Oh, you’re the swimmer.’ An amazing moment.”

Do you have any hidden talents?
“I can do a headstand. I do a lot of yoga. I haven’t mastered a handstand yet, though. I can’t seem to get the balance quite right.”

Do you have a nickname?
“With my old swimming club, and with the British team, it’s ‘Kes’. It came from the TV programme Bo’ Selecta! One of the boys we trained with loved it. Kes is the bird. It stuck. At my new club no one calls me a nickname. I think they’re all still a bit scared of me.”

What would you say is the highlight of your career so far?
“The Beijing Olympics, in terms of the success [Payne won a silver medal]. One of my proudest moments, though, was walking out for the London Olympics and seeing all the people there to watch open water swimming. There were 40,000 people. It was incredible, and the cheer that went up when they called my name was something I’ll never forget. I’m glad I took a second to take it all in.”

What’s the strangest rumour you’ve read about yourself?
“Sometimes people misinterpret what happened at a swim I did in China when we swam past a dead dog. It was pretty horrible, but a lot of people think it was a horse’s head for some reason. It’s like Chinese whispers. But it was definitely a dog.”

What’s your favourite film?
“The Count of Monte Cristo. I have read the book too, but it’s totally different. I don’t mind that though. Sometimes movies don’t live up to the expectation of the book. But, because they end differently, it feels like it’s a different story in a way.”

If you could change one thing about your sport, what would it be?
“It would be amazing if it could be a bit more regulated. So if there are rules, then they are stuck to. Or even if there are no rules. At the moment there are rules, but nothing seems to be regulated.”

What do you enjoy most and least about training?
“I love the challenge of it. I thrive on the tough sessions that make me feel like I’m actually contributing towards the end goal, which is sometimes four years away. What I hate is having to get up every morning and jump into a cold pool. No matter how many times I do it, it still gives me a shock.”

Tell us something not many people know about you...
“I don’t eat apples. I really don’t like the flavour or anything. I like the texture, but not the taste or the smell. It’s weird, I know.”

Keri-Anne Payne is a two-time world 10km open water champion, Olympic medallist and British Gas SwimBritain and Pools 4 Schools ambassador. Visit totalswimming.co.uk/pools-4-schools

Britain’s cheery long-distance runner talks snakes, Denzel Washington and, of course, Arsenal
Mo Farah

Britain’s cheery long-distance runner takes our very special Q&A...

If you could be a professional in any other sport, what would you be?
“Footballer, no question. I’d be a right-back – getting forward when the coach said I could. Nah, I’d be a right midfielder, getting plenty of crosses over!”

What was your first sporting memory?
“Just watching football on TV, then running around at school pretending to be a player.”

Who would you like to play you in the film of your life?
“Denzel Washington. He’s so cool. Have you seen Man on Fire? Now that’s a good film. He might have to do a bit of training, though. I met Samuel L Jackson once, too, and he was amazing.”

What TV show are you watching?
“I don’t watch that much TV, but I make sure I see Match of the Day every week. I watched Breaking Bad too. I can tell you how it ends if you want!”

Not just yet, ta. What’s in your pocket?
“Nothing. Oh, hang on. My iPod – I’m going running straight after this.”

What do you have on your iPod?
“There’s all sorts of music on there – some Dizzee Rascal, some Tupac. I just put it on shuffle and get all sorts of different songs as I’m running.”

Have you ever been starstruck?
“Yes. Any time I meet any of the Arsenal legends – players like Dennis Bergkamp or Ian Wright. Or Arsene Wenger. You know what it’s like when you meet people who were your heroes when you were younger.”

Describe yourself in three words.
“One word: crazy.”

What’s the best advice you have ever been given?
“Just run!”

Who’s the most interesting character in your sport?
“Usain Bolt. He’s phenomenal. I don’t think we appreciate him enough. It’ll be when he stops running that we look back and say: ‘Wow!’ Look at Sir Alex Ferguson – it was only after he retired that we looked back and realised what he’d done.”

What’s your most treasured possession?
“Probably my signed Arsenal memorabilia. I was looking at it all the other day and thinking I might just have to have an Arsenal room in the house!”

Do you have any fears or phobias?
“Yes – snakes. I can’t even look at a snake on television. If I see one when I’m training, I freak out. It’s a real phobia. My mum is scared of them too.”

What’s the strangest fan request you’ve ever received?
“Nothing too weird. Probably just something like I’ll be about to eat something and someone will come over and ask for a picture of me doing the Mobot.”

How many times do you think you’ve been asked to do the Mobot? Are you sick of it?
“I’m definitely not sick of it – and probably a million times!”

Mo Farah competes at the Sainsbury’s Birmingham Indoor Grand Prix on Saturday February 21. Sainsbury’s partnership with British Athletics reflects its commitment to inspiring healthy lifestyles