AjÃ©e Wilson has looked great in her round and in her semi-final. She is in the final. So, David Hunter asks the big question, can she get a medal?
August 10th, 2017
Over the years we have observed 800 meter specialist AjÃ©e Wilson as she has won important races, developed as an athlete, and matured into an accomplished and confident young woman. We’ve watched her win national titles. We’ve seen her deliver poised performances on the world’s biggest stages. And recently – in Monaco’s Diamond League gathering – we witnessed her battle Olympic medalists down to the wire as she clocked 1:55.61 to break Jearl Miles Clark’s nearly 18 year old American record. The stars and planets seem to be aligning perfectly. Might this be the moment when AjÃ©e Wilson wins an outdoor world championship medal?
Of course, Wilson was on the medal stand at the Portland’s 2016 world indoor championships where she was the 800 meter runner-up behind Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba. The silver was an important milestone for Wilson to be sure. But to win a medal at an outdoor global championship against a robust field where every elite athlete is present would represent a much more difficult – and a more meaningful – accomplishment than an indoor medal earned in a 6-athlete final in March.
In her opening round heat of the 800 meters here in London, the 5-time USA national champion gave every indication that she is at the top of her game and ready to battle against the world’s best for a medal. Immediately rushing to the front, Wilson took command. Looking relaxed, the New Jersey native ran unthreatened as she led the field through the first 400 in 59.92. After splitting 600m in 1:30.01, Wilson – whose 6th place finish in 2013 world championship 800m final was recently upgraded to 5th – needed only the slightest tempo increase to fend off all challengers over the final furlong and glide past the finish line in 2:00.52 for a wire-to-wire win. “I was just trying to win the race,” stated the always-composed Wilson. “It felt really easy until the last 200 to go and I just had to get a little turnover and get into a slightly different gear. Definitely with 300 to go, it changed. But it still felt comfortable,” she explains. “It was also just good to kind of get my legs going and get used to the speed that we’re probably going to have in the finals.” Wilson’s win gave her an automatic qualifier to advance to Friday’s semi-final round where she will be joined by her USA teammates Charlene Lipsey [who also won her heat in 2:01.74] and ’13 world championship medalist Brenda Martinez [who clocked 2:01.53 to advance on time].
There can be no question that Wilson’s Monaco race – where she pressed South Africa’s Caster Semenya and Niyonsaba all the way to the line to finish 3rd in her record-breaking performance – was the perfectly-timed confidence-builder for the young middle distance star just before she headed to London. “It was great just to be able to mix it up and kind of get it in my head before coming here that ‘Hey, you can compete. You can run with them,'” acknowledges Wilson. “My training has gone really well. I kind of knew the shape I was in. The goal has always kind of been the same since the beginning: to come here and try to get a medal.”
It has been a patient process to build toward that intersection where Wilson has both achieved pinnacle fitness level and developed an authentic confidence that she is in the same competitive class as the 3 Olympic medalists: Semenya, Niyonsaba, and Kenya’s Margaret Wambui – all of whom easily advanced to the semis. “Since last year, my coach has kind of been drilling in my head that I can compete, that they are beatable, and that I can do it,” notes Wilson who has been brilliantly tutored by the low-profile Derek Thompson. “Last year, I was kind of in the shape I am now. I think we pushed a little too hard and I ended up having an iron deficiency,” explains Wilson on her 2016 health before turning to her newly-acquired confidence. “I definitely know it’s there. I’ve known it for a while. So it is just nice to finally get there this year.”
Earlier in these championships, Semenya – the Rio gold medalist at 800 meters – ran 3 rigorous rounds on the 1500 meters on her way to capturing the bronze medal. It is unclear what lingering fatigue from those three efforts remains. “I think racing as she has is going to take some type of toll on her. I don’t know how much it will. But I’m going to be ready and prepared because she’s going to have her A game ready.”
Wilson – whose Monaco American record clocking is #3 on the world list and #20 on the all-time scroll – does not anticipate any major tinkering on her race as she looks ahead to Friday’s semi-final round. “I think we’ve done the work that we need to get here,” states AjÃ©e. “I think from here it’s just recovering and running smart.”
So many track & field aficionados who have followed the career of AjÃ©e Wilson sense the time is right for her to deliver a medal-winning performance in the final. But does AjÃ©e think it is? “I’m hoping,” notes Wilson with a smile. “I trust God’s timing. So if He thinks I’m ready, then I’m ready, too.”