For a bunch of record-breaking reasons, Ajee’ Wilson and Robby Andrews have always loved running at The Armory.
Now they’ll tell you they love running at the Albuquerque Convention Center, too.
The Monmouth County, N.J., youngsters turned in a pair of brilliant 800-meter performances at Sunday’s closing session of the annual USA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Hers brought a gold medal back to New Jersey, his a silver.
With divergent results, they were big-time crowd-pleasers. The sky’s obviously the limit for Wilson, a record-breaker for the Neptune High School Flyers now making her mark in the sport's biggest-time whirl, Wilson, just 18 years old (her 19th birthday is May 8), had set a world junior 600m record at the Armory's Millrose Games two weeks ago.
She led her four-lap race every step of the Convention Center way and won in 2:02.64, best indoor 800 time of her life, and an American junior record. How did she feel beating a field of her elders for her first national senior crown?
“It was cool,” she said.
Sure was. Her race was cool, calm and calculating, fighting off all the vets running behind her. Chanelle Price, the former Tennessee All-American, led the vain pursuit and settled for second in 2:02.93, with Bethany Praska (2:03.57) and Lea Wallace (2:04.11) next in line.
Cool, calm and calculating, too, was Manalapan, N.J.'s Andrews, the two-time NCAA 800 champion at Virginia, yet still a lad of 21 (March 29 will be his 22nd birthday).
But perhaps his inner calculators needed a bit of fine tuning. Andrews’s strategy was the exact opposite of Wilson’s. Come-from-behind Robby fell just centimeters shy of his own gold medal.
Recognized as the owner of one of the fiercest finishing kicks in the sport, Andrews roared from sixth-and-last place in the men’s 800 final with a lap to go, to within 4/100ths of a second of a triumph.
"I knew Robby was coming up on me, the crowd was screaming, and all I could do was try to hold on; another meter or two and Robby would have had it, " said Iowan Erik Sowinski, the winner in 1:47.09 (two weeks after his upset triumph in the 600 at the Millrose Games).
"I guess I make people nervous running like that, but that’s what works for me," said Andrews, 21, twice an NCAA champion for Virginia now completing degree requirements while living at home and serving as volunteer assistant coach at Princeton.
"My coach (Derek Thompson) told me to be ready for anything, fast pace, slow pace, whatever," said Wilson. "So I did exactly that."
When no one else was willing to 'take it out,' Wilson did. After a 59.7 opening 400, she had enough left for a 1:02.9 second 400 to get the big win.
It was one more entry in Wilson’s portfolio of major honors.
In addition to her dominating career running for Neptune High, she won the 800 at the World Youth (17-under) Championships in Lille, France, in 2011 and at the World Junior (19-under) Championships in Barcelona in 2012.
Like Andrews, she’s signed a professional contract, represents the adidas company and is taking credits at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, Middletown Township, N.J.
But unlike Andrews, she won’t have a college track career, While she'll be attending Temple University starting in September (tuition guaranteed by the adidas contract), she’ll continue her trek on the pro circuit.
"That young lady (Wilson) has a world of talent and incredible potential,” said famed coach Alberto Salazar.
His own young pupil, Bronxville HS junior Mary Cain, had a huge day at Indoor Nationals, too. Not fast, but huge just the same.
Cain, just 16, won the women’s mile title in 5:05.68 with a 58.8 final 400, after a lethargic, semi-jogging early pace.
Cain became the first high schooler to strike gold in Indoor Nationals since sprinter Allyson Felix in 2003. But the 5:05.68 was the slowest winning mile time (or for its 1500-meter alternate) in this meet’s long history.
"But it was fast enough to win," reminded Salazar.
By complete contrast, the men’s mile was a sizzler. No one held back. The race was on, from the crack of the starter’s pistol.
Twenty-one and a half hours after he ran off with the Indoor Nationals 3000-meter crown, Will Leer added the one-mile title to his dossier with a 3:58.79 sprint-finish win over Craig Miller (3:58.90) and Cory Leslie (3:59.88) with Jeff See (4:02.73) on their tail.
Leer’s 3:58.79 will go into the books as the fastest indoor mile ever run at altitude (Albuquerque is just over a mile over sea level).
Back of both champions Sowinski and Leer, Olympic 1500-meter fourth-placer Matthew Centrowitz tried for a double but settled for fourth in the 800 (1:47.82) and eighth in the mile (4:08.62).
Harrisburg, Pa., and Arizona State product Ryan Whiting continued his stay atop the 2013 world shot put list with a mighty heave of 71-6 1/4. Olympic teammate Michelle Carter won the women's shot at 63-8 1/4 over NYAC’s Jeneva McCall (58-11 1/2).
Baylor product Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 Olympic 400 king, made a rare indoor start and cruised to the 400 title in 45.82.
Long Islanders Tim Seaman and Maria Michta again dominated their 3000-meter racewalking realms.
An hour and a half after Seaman, the West Babylon High School and University of Parkside graduate now coaching at California’s Cuyamaca College, won the men’s 3000 walk in 12:08.65, Michta, the Sachem High and LIU-Post alumna now pursuing doctoral studies in virology at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Medical School, followed suit by taking the women’s 3000 title in 13:07.07.
Both races had similar scripts. Missourian Patrick Stroupe battled Seaman through the early laps before dropping back. Likewise, Oregon’s Erin Gray gave Michta an early challenge only to fade out of contention.
For 40-year-old Seaman, it was a career 45th national walking title — at all distances — and a record 14th in Indoor Nationals (topping the 13 won by weight thrower Lance Deal in the 1980s and '90s).
Stroupe held on for second in 12:30.15 with Rochester, N.Y.’s Dan Serianni third in 13:03.40 and Shore AC's Michael Mannozzi fourth (13:05.61). Gray settled for walker-up spot in 13:17.90 with upstate New Yorker Miranda Melville third at 13:24.96.
Former New Jersey high school hurdles stars met mixed fortunes in their specialties. Nia Ali, the ex-star at Pleasantville High and the University of Southern California, edged to the women’s 60 hurdles gold in 7.93. But Franklin High and Michigan grad, 2012 Olympian Jeff Porter, crashed the fourth of his five barriers in the men’s 60 highs and stuggled over the line an out-of-it sixth, in a race won by Texas Tech grad Omoghan Osaghae in 7.62.
Joshua Honeycutt of Phoenix came up with a last-round 54-5 1/4 triple jump to edge 2008 USA Olympian Rafeeq Curry of Shore AC (53-11 3/4).