AFTER THE FINISH of the Doha 800 Ajee’ Wilson’s face was hard to read. Certainly stoic, perhaps stunned. With 100m left, the race favorite appeared to be on her way to her first WC gold. Instead, the powerful finishes of Halimah Nakaayi and her own training partner, Raevyn Rogers, relegated the American champion to bronze, repeating the medal she won in ’17.
“I definitely wanted Worlds to go differently,” she admits, offering no excuses. “I feel like that was what I had on that given day. I don’t have a particular reason it happened. The race kind of went how it did. It was just a matter of that was what it was.”
Still, a No. 1 World Ranking helped confirm the fact that she had put down an impressive body of work in the pre-Olympic year. “It was a reminder that last year was a good one, even though it didn’t end how I wanted it to. It’s easy to just focus on the negative sometimes. It was a nice reminder that, hey, it didn’t go how you wanted, but my coach and I, we put together a good season. What we’re doing is working.”
In a year of “more ups than downs,” Wilson says the high point was capturing the Diamond League crown in Brussels, explaining, “I remember the first time I ever went to a Diamond League Final, it was in Zürich. Watching the athletes who won go around the stadium. And it gets dark and they had the lights and it was a huge spectacle. And I remember thinking, ‘This is so cool. I hope one day, I’ll be able to experience that.’ So 6 years later I had that moment. It was super special.”
Wilson clocked 2:00.24 in that win at the Van Damme. Five weeks earlier she had run her yearly best of 1:57.72 to win her fourth USATF title outdoors. Now she stands on the brink of another Olympic season. In Rio, she finished 3rd in her semi, just missing the final. Since then, she says that time has made her a different person.
“I’ve matured over the years and my body style is getting used to this level of training,” she says. “I’ve found a sweet spot of what works for me. I’ve learned my body better. I’m more passionate about what I’m doing; I’m definitely more appreciative of being able to do what I do. There’s so many opportunities and benefits that have come with running and how many relationships I’ve created over the years. I would say I’m more in love with what I do.”
Now in the midst of her winter training with coach Derek Thompson, Wilson says, “We’re looking at training and racing as just improving in any way, every way possible.” There have been no major changes, she adds, just a bit more emphasis on strength and a shorter indoor season. “I think I’m racing three times and that’s probably the shortest I’ve run indoors since high school.”
Should she qualify for the World Indoor—a meet in which she captured silvers the last two times out—she notes, “I definitely think that anytime you make a team it’s a big deal that can’t be taken for granted. Should that opportunity come, my coach and I will sit down and talk about it. We’re going to do these races and see how things play out.”
However, Wilson’s major focus, of course, will be on the Trials and the Games. A veteran at 25, she knows what she needs to do: “I’m going to just stay in tune, stay locked into what I’m doing. At this point we’ve figured out what works for me. Staying committed to the course and staying focused and just keeping my head down and grinding is the best chance I have of making that goal. Anything can happen; things happen. I can’t control everything, but I can control what I’m putting out and how I’m coming to the line every time I race. Just being consistent across the board is my best bet of trying to go for it all.”
After her Doha disappointment, Wilson is not just motivated—she’s also having a blast: “I’m excited, ready, prepared [laughs]—I laugh because coming to practice, I’m like, ‘Morning everybody!! What’s up?!’ I’m genuinely excited to be at practice. I’m excited to work out. Pumped up, excited, just regardless of results, I’m ready to get after it. My teammates and my coach make it that much more fulfilling to just go after that goal, because everybody is awesome. I can’t say that enough.”