Ajee’ Wilson, photo by PhotoRun.net
Ajee’ Wilson is one of our most talented middle distance runners in the U.S. An athlete who went pro at the end of high school, Ajee’ Wilson continues to show her promise. After dealing with many injuries in 2015, Ajee’ Wilson, in this fine piece by Elliott Denman, is looking to 2016 with much anticipation.
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
There is very good news to report out of the Ajee’ Wilson camp.
The three-time USATF 800-meter champion (twice indoors, once outdoors) is running well, training well; and, well, very-very anxious to make up for the time lost and opportunities gone after sitting out everything that followed the the 2015 Outdoor Nationals last June in Eugene.
She’d led the world in 2014-with her PB of 1:57.67 in Monaco-but a stress fracture of the lower left at 2015 Nationals kayoed her World Championships dream.
But all has mended, she’s planning for a big indoor season, and an even bigger outdoor campaign in her personal vision of the Road to Rio. Still just 21, there are plenty of golden dreams straight ahead.
With the women’s 800 still considered one of the most wide-open events in the sport, her chances can be rightfully called as good as anyone’s.
They were anything but that as June 2015 turned into July. But as December turns to January 2016, it’s a whole new story.
At this point, some flashbacks are in order.
Neptune, New Jersey’s Wilson played a string of starring roles in the USATF-produced videography of the year’s major events, the big-screen production loudly applauded by attendees at the opening and closing sessions of the national governing body’s Annual Meeting, December 1-6, in the Imperial Ballroom of Houston’s Hyatt Regency Hotel.
There she was, up on the screen, big as life, (a) with her race-breaking 2:00.08 800-meter leg, helping Team USA run to a world record-smashing 10:36.50 in the distance medley at the second edition of the IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas; (b) coming within inches, or 5/100ths of a second to be precise, of beating out
2014 World Champion Eunice Sum of Kenya, in the Prefontaine Classic 800; (c) gutsily clinging on to third place, despite running the final half-lap barefoot, thanks to a kicked-off spiked shoe, in the 800 final at the USA Nationals, again at Eugene’s Hayward Field.
For all this, (a) she was named (along with DMR teammates Treniere Moser, Sanya Richards-Ross and Shannon Rowbury ) a USATF award finalist in the category of “relay performance of the year,” and (b) a finalist in the “inspirational performance of the year” category for the one-shoe-on, one-shoe-off third-place 800 finish at Nationals.
Well, as things turned out in Houston, as they did almost all the rest of the year for Ajee’ Wilson….they just didn’t turn out. Both awards went elsewhere.
The “relay performance of the year” award went to the men’s World Relays DMR team of Kyle Merber, Brycen Spratling, Brandon Johnson and Ben Johnson, who set their own world record of 9:15.50.
And the “most inspirational” award went to 110 high hurdler Aries Merritt, who told no one before the Beijing World Championships final, where he went on to take the bronze medal, that his kidney function was down to 20 percent, and that he’d have to undergo transplant surgery just days after returning from China.
Wilson’s tough-luck 2015 campaign had actually started back at Indoor Nationals in Boston. She’d been dynamite at the Albuquerque Indoor Nationals of 2013 and 2014, winning 800-meter crowns in 2:02.64 and 2:00:43, but the switch from 800 to 600 at the 2015 Nationals proved no favor at all. Tripped up just as she was preparing to “kick it in,” she tumbled to the Reggie Lewis track and jogged home an unhappy sixth and last in 1:39.39, time she’d have beaten in Junior High.
The Outdoor Nationals did her no favors, either.
Badly scraped sole and all – she had no idea who’d kicked off the shoe – she still gritted her teeth and hung on for third place in the event she’d won at the Sacramento Nationals of 2014 in 1:58.70.
But that still qualified her for the 2015 Beijing Worlds – until the world found out she wouldn’t be going to China at all.
There was a lot more to this story than the barefoot finish. She’d been having problems well before Nationals, not severe enough to take her out of the running, but bad enough to realize that something major was really amiss.
Instead of hitting the European circuit, instead of packing for China, she wound up spending all summer rehabbing what was ultimately diagnosed as a stress fracture.
Never one to go public with problems, Wilson had kept the pain quiet.
Molly Beckwith-Ludlow, fourth-placer at Nationals, was named Wilson’s replacement, and joined Alysia Johnson Montano and Brenda Martinez on the Beijing team.
But they found tough luck, too. Montano fell and went out in the first round; Martinez had a sixth and Beckwith-Ludlow a seventh in the semifinals.
So, instead of Team USA having three 800-meter finalists as it did at Worlds in Moscow in 2013 –Martinez ran third there, Montano fourth and Wilson sixth – it had zero this time. (And mind you, those 2013 results may yet improve – subject to ongoing doping reviews.)
So now, bygones being bygones, it’s on to Olympic Year 2016.
Wilson is back training in Philadelphia, with coach Derek Thompson, on the cinder track at the now-shuttered Junior High, that has been her home base ever since her starring days at Neptune High School.
“Ajee’ has been running well since late August,” reported Ray Flynn, who does double duty as her agent and Millrose Games director, at the Annual Meeting in Houston.
“She is definitely looking to make up for lost time.
“She will run Millrose and other big meets.
“We all know how much will be at stake in 2016. If all goes well, she can run with anybody in the world.”