OF ALL THE AMAZING RACES in a breakthrough season for quartermiler Wadeline Jonathas, the most special wasn’t a final.
“I felt like I had this other power coming over me,” the 22-year-old South Carolina alum says of her World Champs semi in Doha. “I don’t even know how to explain it, the amount of distance I had to cover. The last 80m made me realize that I was more than ready to go to the final. I wasn’t scared. It made me realize that I had a chance in the final, just like everybody else.”
She crossed the line in a PR 50.07, a couple of strides behind Shaunae Miller-Uibo but closing like a runaway train. That set her up well for the final two days later, where she slashed her PR again, this time to 49.60 in 4th to become the No. 9 American ever, missing the medals by a mere 0.13.
Happy or sad? “Both. I was happy at the time because I knew the time was in there. I was disappointed that I didn’t place. I wanted to place really bad on the big stage my first time.”
She adds, “The more I think about it, it’s OK. Because that was a crazy year and an exciting year and I’m grateful that I made it, but I am working to get the medal next time.”
To understand how far Jonathas improved, a glimpse at her PR drop—3.21 seconds in one year—doesn’t begin to tell the story.
She came with her family from Haiti to Massachusetts when she was 11. In high school at Worcester’s Doherty Memorial, she gravitated to playing basketball. It wasn’t until a track coach made a pitch to her in the school hallways her junior year that she even considered running.
“I wasn’t introduced to the sport at a young age and I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she admits. “I remember seeing the lines on the indoor facility at school and I’m like, ‘What are those lines for?’ It never crossed my mind that people actually ran in between those lines.”
Her first year she sprinted and jumped. And since we’re numbers geeks: 26.15 in the 200, a 4-8 (1.43) high jump and a 14-6 (4.42) long jump.
“I started running the 400 at the end of my senior year,” she says. She hit a PR 55.81 at the Massachusetts All-State meet. At New Balance Nationals, relegated to the Emerging Elite race rather than the championship, she finished 6th.
Promising indeed, but not for a D1 full-ride. Jonathas, representing the first generation in her family to go to college—and with six siblings to think of—had to find a practical way to finance it. “I wanted to pursue my education first, but I knew I wanted to run. I had to stay local because my financial aid covered more local than it would cover some of those bigger schools. I went to where I could get better before I could take the next step.”
That was Division III’s UMass Boston. In two years there she dominated, tying the record for the most individual national crowns at 9. In ’18 at the National Indoor, she led the Beacons to the win, scoring 40 of its 46 points—the runner-up team scored 37.
That’s when Jonathas decided it was time to take on a bigger challenge. Of her time in Boston, she says, “It was really fun. The team, the coaches, they were like a family to me. It was a safe environment where I had people to talk to. It wasn’t always about just performing.”
With two years of eligibility remaining, she looked to move up to Div. I. Originally, she signed with Kentucky, but when coach Edrick Floréal moved over to Texas, she lost her desire to be a Wildcat. “A lot happened that I don’t really have time to go into,” she says, “but I just feel like it was meant for me to go [to South Carolina]. That was around the same time we got a new coach.”
She hit it off immediately with sprint assistant Karim Abdel Wahab, who arrived in Columbia the same time she did: “We’re like best friends. We have fun. I think we understand each other and I think that at this level, it’s really important to work with someone who understands you.”
The challenge of moving to Div. I was huge. “I went from being the star to having to work to win,” Jonathas says. “I came here with the mindset of working. I didn’t come to have friends. I didn’t come to party or go out or anything like that.” She adds that the support system she has in Columbia made all the difference.
Improvement steadily came, and while she only placed 3rd in the SEC, she won the NCAA title in a PR 50.60. “It was great,” she says, “but I was never satisfied.
“When I’m somewhere, I like to be the best there. I don’t want to be 2nd, I don’t want to be 3rd; I strive to be the best. If I wasn’t hitting my times, Coach Karim would tell me that I have more in me and that I can accomplish what I want to accomplish. Never once did I say, ‘Well, I’ve hit that time, it’s time for me to relax now.’”
She improved again, to 50.44, to finish 3rd at USATF and snag a spot on the Doha squad. For Jonathas, the thought process behind her decision to represent the U.S. (she has dual citizenship) was similar to her reasons for moving up to Div. I: “I guess a lot of people automatically assume that since I’m Haitian, it would be so much easier for me to represent Haiti than trying to race some of the best in the world to represent the USA. I don’t like doing things that come easy to me. I knew if I could place at the U.S. nationals, then the chances of me placing on the big stage would be higher. I didn’t want to be scared. I don’t ever want to be scared competing against anyone and to do that, I feel like I have to be ready. That’s why I went for USA.”
The decision paid off with a No. 5 World Ranking and a relay gold. The baton event was just icing, she says, explaining, “I’m not gonna lie, I have a lot of people ask me this question. This was the easiest relay that I ran all last year, from college to the Worlds. It felt great because I felt like I earned being on that relay, you know? I earned carrying the flag.”
With the sport on hold, Jonathas is finishing up her degree in Retail Management, having decided over the winter to turn pro. “And,” she adds, “I sleep a lot. I am sleeping for the most part. I love cooking. I listen to lots of Haitian music and dance a lot. I don’t have a life. As much as I would love to have a life, I really don’t have one. But I know I do dance and cook a lot.”
In a lifetime defined by taking on challenges, Jonathas awaits the next one: “I don’t limit myself and I don’t let people limit me. In fact, I love to be underestimated. But I know I work hard and I know whatever I work towards, God willing, I will get it.”