When it comes to peaking at the right time, Ajee Wilson — the Neptune, N.J., star headed to Florida State in the fall — has found perfection as each of the last two years, she has earned world gold.
Today in Barcelona, Wilson took advantage of a fast early pace and kicked home of the last turn of the 800-meter run, passing Great Britain's Jessica Judd to win the IAAF World Junior Championships in a time of 2:00.91. Not just a massive personal best, that time is No. 2 in U.S. high school history behind only Kim Gallagher's 1982 record of 2:00.07.
Running seventh as the leader — Iceland's Anita Hinriksdottir — sped through 400 meters in 58.3, Wilson took off down the backstretch with 250 meters left. Heading into the final turn only Judd was still before her and she roared past her off the turn. Judd didn't give up at all, fighting gamely down the homestretch, finishing just .05 behind.
The high school list isn't the only one that Wilson zoomed up. She is also now No. 3 all-time on the U.S. junior list behind just Gallagher and Kathy Weston (2:00.73 in 1976).
"It's amazing (to win here),” said Wilson. “I’m so happy I PR-ed and do what I was able to do. I noticed the first lap was fast, so I stayed back in striking distance. The last 300, I wanted to put myself in good position. At 200, I felt good, but I wanted to face-off the leader (Judd) because I didn’t know what she had. In the last 100, I just went all out. I wasn’t sure how far (Judd) was behind me, but I maintained my form and was prepared if she came I would be able to switch to another gear. When I was at the meet last time, (the 2010 World Junior Championships in Moncton), I placed fifth and I remember telling myself that I wanted to be the one on top of the podium.”
Wilson's performance was not the only sensational effort by the Armory Army as North Shore's Brianna Nerud broke her own national high school record to take fifth in the steeplechase. After an 11-second personal best in the preliminary, Nerud chopped off eight more seconds to finish in 10:00.72. Daisy Jepkemei of Kenya won in 9:47.22.
“I didn’t realize I was so close to breaking ten (minutes),” said Nerud. “Overall, it was a tough race. Everyone was really going for it. Even if I missed the medals, I ran as fast as I could, and I got a PR. It started a little slow, then I picked up the pace and then they took it, and I tried to hang on to them and do whatever I could. In the last two laps, I knew I had a little more left and I tried to pick off those last two girls (for a medal).”
And Medgar Evers' rising senior Kadecia Baird is now a finalist in the 400-meter dash after blazing through the semifinals in 52.40. Representing Guyana at the World Juniors, Baird will be joined by two Americans — Erika Rucker (52.05) and Ashley Spencer (52.24) — in Friday evening's final.
Two New Yorkers — Bronxville's Mary Cain in the 1500m and Averill Park's Rudy Winkler in the hammer — begin their championship quests overnight.
In other Thursday competition, Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic won the World Junior 400-meter dash, beating Americans Arman Hall and Aldrich Bailey in the final. Santos finished in 44.85 — his third sub-45 in the last month — ahead of second-place Hall (45.39) and fourth-place Bailey (45.52).
Four Americans — two men and two women — have advanced to the 200-meter finals. For the men it was Aaron Ernest of LSU (21.06) and Tyreek Hill of Douglas, Ga. (21.00), both finalists in the 100 as well. Dezerea Bryant of Milwaukee, Wis. (23.11) and Olivia Ekpone of Texas A&M (23.49) will represent in the women's final.