THE MILLROSE WOMEN’S 800 played out differently than most of Ajee’ Wilson’s races, except in one key regard: the 25-year-old New Jersey native crossed the line first. Typically she runs at the front (or right behind the pacesetter) from the start, but a series of atypical challenges forced Wilson to vary her tactics at the Armory. Despite the chaos, the 8-time national champion not only won the race, but also lowered her own U.S. indoor standard in the process, clocking 1:58.29.
LaTavia Thomas paced the field through opening splits of 26.88 and 56.22, but it was France’s Cynthia Anais who made an aggressive charge to lead the chase, preventing Wilson from gaining her preferred position. Wilson was just 4th at the 400 (57.51) after Jamaican Natoya Goule also slipped ahead of her. (Continued below)
After Thomas stepped off the track, Anais led through 500 (1:12.49), then Goule charged to te front at the bell (1:28.16). Wilson finally made her decisive move down the last backstretch, seizing the lead with half a lap to go and coming home 0.31 under the AR she set at Millrose last year. She was more than a second clear of her Jamaican rival (1:59.35), while Anais (2:04.51) faded badly to 4th.
“I wanted to give it one big go with 150 to go,” said Wilson, last year’s top ranked 800 runner, who collected her second straight WC bronze. “I didn’t know what [Goule] had left, but I knew I had a lot in the tank.”
And while she would have preferred to control the pace from the start, Wilson said she never panicked. Working under coach Derek Thompson with an ever-growing training group of top middle-distance runners in the Philadelphia area that includes Raevyn Rogers, Charlene Lipsey and now Sammy Watson, her workouts have prepared her for every possible scenario. “With training I get used to being inside, outside, in the back, in the front, so I felt comfortable,” she said. “I wasn’t worried.” ◻︎