Drinking It All In
For precious moments, Ajee' Wilson dared to dream the impossible.
She'd roared from far back around the final turn of the women's 800-meter final in the 14th World Championships of Track & Field. In full stride, she was passing runner after runner. She edged up to fourth place, briefly.
Matched against the planet's finest middle distance runners, all of them her elders, on the ninth and concluding day of the Worlds, the 19-year-old from Neptune, N.J. could see the Luzhniki Stadium finish line just ahead and visualized herself on the victory stand.
"Yeah, I told myself, third is within my reach," she said later. "I could see people in front of me, and I was moving up."
It just wasn't to be. As Kenya's Eunice Kepkoech Sum (1:57.38) and Russia's Mariya Savinova (1:57.80) were running down the front-running American, Alysia Montano and going on to a 1-2 finish, another American, Brenda Martinez, and Russia's Ekaterina Poistogova were making desperate stretch runs of their own.
They passed Wilson and when it all sorted out, Martinez (1:57.91) took the bronze, the unhappy Montano (1:57.95) settled for fourth, Poistogova was fifth (1:58.05) and Wilson was sixth (1:58.21).
Trailing were Natalia Lupu of Ukraine (1:59.79) and Lenka Masna of Czech Republic (2:00.59).
Not only was Wilson's 1:58.21 by far the fastest two laps of her life, topping the 1:59.55 she'd run at the USA Nationals eight weeks ago, but it was a USA National Junior record, erasing the 1:59.51 Bronxville, N.Y'.s Mary Cain had run in May. It was also the 12th fastest time ever run by a Junior runner (19 and under) of any nation, a list topped by Pamela Jelimo's 1:54.01 for Kenya in 2008.
Oh, it was also within breathing distance of the fastest 800 by a New Jerseyan — Joetta Clark's 1:57.84 in 1998.
"When all this (the Worlds) started, I never thought I'd wind up sixth, no, not really," said Wilson, who will be rewarded with a $6,000 check from the International Association of Athletics Federations.
"My first goal (back in June) was just to make the World Championships team. Then, when I started here, I just wanted to make it through the rounds (quarter-finals and semis).
"So when I reached the finals, I knew that anything was possible. I knew when I finished it was fast, I just didn't know how fast."
Next stop for Wilson will be the Diamond League meet in Stockholm next weekend. And then it's home to New Jersey.
In September, she'll start classes at Philadelphia's Temple University, where her big sister, Jade, starred as a hurdler on the Owls' track team.
But Ajee' will not run for the Owls. She's already a professional athlete, under contract to the adidas co.
Are the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics already within striking range? Sure, but she's smart enough to realize it's got to be one major stride at a time.