THEY STILL CAN’T GET HER NAME STRAIGHT
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
After all this, they still don’t know how to pronounce her name.
TV announcer after TV announcer, at press conference after press conference,
track fan after track fan, they continue to miscall her as “Ar-gee” Wilson or “Ahh-zhee”
Wilson or “Arr-Jay” Wilson or some variety thereof.
They still have no clue about the identity of her coach. Of course, she doesn’t help the situation with every reference to “my coach” and never going beyond that to let the track world know that the man actually has a name.
They still have no real idea about how she trains or where she trains or how she got there.
And – you know what? – she’s pretty cool with all of the above.
That’s Ajee’ – correctly pronounced as “Ah-zhay” – Wilson for you, fastest woman in the world over the 800-meter distance in 2014, past World Youth Champion (2011), past World Junior Champion (2012), three-time USA champion (outdoors 2013-14, indoors (2014), World Championships finalist (sixth Moscow 2013) getting better every time out, and now poised for a serious run at her sport’s highest honors.
But she’s still lowest-key about it all and maybe the softest-spoken big-time international athlete you’ll ever want to meet.
She added to her burgeoning dossier with another big win last Saturday and heads into the USA Nationals as the solidly top choice in the women’s 800 meters.
Monica Hargrove – the designated “rabbit,” or pacemaker – did her job to perfection,leading the elite women’s 800-meter field at the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League Meet at New York’s Icahn Stadium last Saturday through the first lap in 57.19 seconds.
And Ajee’ Wilson and her pack of pursuers did all the rest.
Neptune, N.J. product Wilson went on to win the race over a global field of challengers in a speedy 1:58.83 as Kenya’s Janeth Jepkosgei (1:59.37), fellow Americans Chanelle Price (1:59.47), Molly Ludlow (1:59.93), Brenda Martinez (2:00.33) and seven others, representing five nations, gave vain chase.
It was yet another success for the brilliant Wilson, who marked her 21st birthday on May 8, and gave her four more coveted points in the global Diamond League
standings. She’ll now head back to Oregon as everyone’s top pick in the two-lapper.
She met the media Friday in New York, a day before her big assignment running the 800
in the Adidas Grand Prix Diamond League Meet. She knew she’d be up
against the likes of American rivals Martinez, Price, Moser and Ludlow; Kenyans Jepkosgei and Violah Lagat, and Benin’s Noelle Yarigo. Sure enough, it proved a magnificent race as a great warmup for the USA Nationals in Eugene, the big qualifying prelim heading into August’s World Championships in Beijing.
It was only after the media session – where she shared the stage with men’s world 800 king David Rudisha – was over, though, when an interviewer or two began asking more insightful questions, that she opened up with some more illuminating answers to some pointed questions.
Such as these:
(1) Q. You and Eunice Sum of Kenya are sometimes described as arch-rivals, the world’s top pair heading into the 2015 World Championships season. True? (Sum was ranked number one, Wilson number two globally in 2014, even though Wilson’s 1:57.67 was the world’s speediest.)
A. “Oh, not at all. We’re actually good friends. She is really super-nice. a great person.”
(2) Q. You and Sum had quite a battle at the Prefontaine Classic two weeks ago. You seemed to lead it for 799 meters, then got passed a step before the line (and thus lost 1:57.82 to 1:57.87.) What happened? Did you let up at the end?
A. “Oh, not at all, she just got me. I was really driving, I was really working. Now it’s (finishing strong) is something that’s always drilled into my head. I used to have a tendency not to finish races (less than full blast to the line.) Now, it’s something we work on, every practice, every day. And something I know I have to do in meets, every race, every round. I don’t want to let that (a Pre-type loss) happen to me again.”
(3) Q. Every press conference, every interview, you mention ‘my coach.’ But very few people really know who your coach is. (Actually, he is Mr. Derek Thompson.) He seems to be totally low key, just like you. Shouldn’t he be famous, too. Or does he like it that way? Is that part of the plan, too?
A. “You’re right, maybe that should be changing. Maybe people
should begin to realize who he is and the great job he does. Maybe it’s time he got
some recognition, too.
“And you know, well, maybe part of that is my fault. I always, all the time, go into an interview thinking that everybody knows who he is. But maybe that’s not right. You know, I never really asked him whether he prefers it that way.
“But from my standpoint, I think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Sure, more people should know who he is, what he’s done and how amazing he is at what he’s done.
“Before he started coaching and training me, he already had a great coaching record, with his club team, Juventus Track Club. He was the coach of Marielle Hall (NCAA 5000-meter champion for the University of Texas out of Haddonfield, N,.J.) before he started coaching me, and others.”
(4) Q. So who really is Mr. Derek Thompson?
A. “He’s really a postman (who had once been a professional cricketer in Jamaica.) He delivers the mail. I guess that’s not the job you’ll be seeing a
great coach, a famous coach, doing. But it works for him and it works for me.”
(5) Q. Where does all this great work take place?”
A. “At Cedar Brook Middle School in Philadelphia. Actually, the school itself closed years ago but the track is still there.
“It’s a dirt track – you don’t see too many of them any more – but it works for us. I think there’s a lot to be said about running on a dirt track. We don’t seem to run into injuries, something that seems to happen all the time with the runners that train on these new (artificially-surfaced, ultra-fast) tracks.)
“We only go on a new (artificially-surfaced) track just before a big meet. Just to be ready.
We have a small group. (Jamaica star) Kimarra McDonald (formerly of Tennessee) is one of them. It all seems to work out.”
(6) Q. You’re from the Jersey Shore (Neptune, N.J.) living in Philadelphia, running professionally (representing the adidas co.) and going to college there. How’s that working out?
A.”Really, very well. I live about a seven-minute walk away from the (Cedar Brook) track, and it’s about a 40-minute bus ride to Temple (University.) I’m taking regular courses (in Temple’s College of Health Professions and Social Work) and on course (to a degree.) I want to do an internship this summer, but I have to find the time. I guess I’ll be traveling a lot.”
(7) Q. Athletes at this press conference were asked which events they’d like to do other than their specialties. What was your answer?
A. “I said high jumper but I should have thought that one over a little more. I should have said racewalking. I tell my teammates that all the time. I tell them about practicing with an
Olympic racewalker and competing as a race walker in those Shore AC summer meets. It was fun but my calves used to burn like crazy.”
(Full disclosure: That once-Olympic racewalker was Elliott Denman.)
Larry Eder has had a 50-year involvement in the sport of athletics. Larry has experienced the sport as an athlete, coach, magazine publisher, and now, journalist and blogger. His first article, on Don Bowden, America's first sub-4 minute miler, was published in RW in 1983. Larry has published several magazines on athletics, from American Athletics to the U.S. version of Spikes magazine. He currently manages the content and marketing development of the RunningNetwork, The Shoe Addicts, and RunBlogRun. Of RunBlogRun, his daily pilgrimage with the sport, Larry says: "I have to admit, I love traveling to far away meets, writing about the sport I love, and the athletes I respect, for my readers at runblogrun.com, the most of anything I have ever done, except, maybe running itself."
Theme song: Greg Allman, " I'm no Angel."
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