Ajeé Wilson- Writing on the Wall

by Elliott Denman

Coach Derek Thompson calls it a natural progression, a track and field A-B-C:

   (A) Lille (World Youth Championships 2011), (B) Barcelona (World Juniors 2012),  (C) Moscow (World Championships  2013.)

Ajeé Wilson, his star pupil, is a dutiful young lady. She wouldn't like to disappoint her mentor.  So, track fans, don't be surprised if Ms. Wilson, of Neptune, N.J., continues paying very careful attention to Coach Wilson, does everything he expects of her in their increasingly-intense Philadelphia training sessions and runs all the way to Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital for the 14th edition of the IAAF Worlds in mid-August.

   One thing is already sure.  Ajeé Wilson will not be using the undergraduate trail to global senior-level stardom.  College track cannot factor into her future now that she has signed a contract with adidas.
   She has said her "thanks, but no thanks" to Florida State University, her original destination out of Neptune High.

    It's a path similar to that followed by Allyson Felix - going pro right after high school but continuing her education on her own terms. It sure did work out for Felix - just look at her now, the golden girl of the world circuit - and every Ajeé Wilson fan hopes it works out just as well for the Jersey pheenom.

   "Ajeé's education is first and foremost," says her Mom, Mrs. Tonya Wilson. "And the great thing now is that it's being taken care of."

   Ajeé has been enrolled as a science major at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, Middletown, N.J. since September 2012 and the plan is to transfer to Temple University in Phladelphia this September, where the adidas contract will guarantee her tuition until graduation (just as Felix's adidas contract guaranteed full tuition at Southern California.)

  In a few more interesting twists, Middletown, N.J. is becoming action central in the middle/longer distance world.  Consider: (1) Robby Andrews, two-time NCAA 800 champion for Virginia, is also enrolled at Brookdale, completing UVA degree requirements, (2) Christian Brothers Academy, just across Newman Springs Road from the Brookdale campus, was home to the cross country team that won the 2011 NXN team title, and seemed poised to win NXN again in December, until bogging down in the Portland mud; 3) Middletown High School North junior Thomas O'Neill raced to the early-season national lead with his sizzling 9:05.50 3200 meters.

  "It was Ajeé's decision (to sign with adidas, and world-noted agent Ray Flynn)," said Mrs. Wilson, who was a collegiate competitor herself in the hurdles, 800, high jump and relays at Trenton State College, now The College of New Jersey.  "We (she and husband Zachary) have always been supportive of her running, and now we're supportive of her decision.

   "Ajeé wants to focus on her running this year and getting to the World Championships," said Mrs. Wilson. "The Worlds is primary to her. We know that making the U.S. team will not be easy, there's so much other great talent out there."
  Knowledgeable track fans recognize that it's not-really-an-impossible-dream, either.

  "We were happy to see that Ajeé came through the fall training season so well, she weathered it well," said agent Flynn, still the Irish one-mile record-holder (at 3:49.77), an 89-time sub-4 miler who now doubles as director of the Millrose Games.

  "She has a very good situation now, training under Coach Thompson, and it's been working well for over two years," said Flynn. "She's done everything possible for her to do so far, winning at World Youths (2:02.64 at Lille in 2011), winning at World Juniors (2:00.91 PB at Barcelona in 2012), and we certainly expect her to maintain that progress."

   The 2012 USA Olympic Trials at Eugene's Hayward Field may have been the only disappointing experience of her track career to date. She bowed out in the semis of the 800, caught up in heavy traffic around her final turn and unable to find that needed extra gear.

   But she'd already won at the National Juniors, her ticket to Barcelona, the week before, so it was no problem chalking up the Trials as a valuable learning experience.

   With Northeast USA temps now dipping into Arctic territory, Wilson has already been red-hot thus far into the 2013 indoor season.

    She shook off the cobwebs with a 1:10.79 third place in the special 500-meter race at The Armory's Gotham Cup meet on Jan. 11, trailing ex-Seton Hall star Sophia Smellie (1:10.08) and former LSU standout LaTavia Thomas (1:10.41) over the line.

   Eight days later, she sent lightning bolts circulating around the track universe.  With an Invitation 600-meter race added to the NYU Team Challenge meet card, Wilson zipped her three laps around the Armory track in a dazzling 1:27.30.

   Meet officials - among them Team Challenge meet director Nick McDonough, the NYU coach who resides in Interlaken, N.J., two towns over from Neptune -
knew that this was something quite special.  And, soon after checking the sport's archives, they knew it was a World Junior record. She'd bettered the 1:27.4 mark set by Great Britain's Linsey Macdonald all the way back in 1981.

   Actually, world Junior best-ever might be more accurate terminology since the 600 is not an official world-record event. It was nevertheless an eye-opener as she won oh-so-convincingly over Lorain McKenzie (1:31.05) and Andrea Bradshaw (1:35.33.)

  For the 1:27.30 achievement, Wilson was named USA Track and Field's "athlete of the week."

   And now it's onward and upward.

   Wilson is booked to run her 800 specialty again at the Armory Collegiate Meet on Saturday, Feb. 2.

   Then it's right back to the Armory for the 106th edition of the Millrose Games, and right back to the 600 meters, on Saturday, Feb. 16.

  Wilson will toe the line against a stacked field headed by the "flower-powered," Queens-born Alysia Montano, the 2012 Olympic Trials 800 champion who went on to run a 1:57.93 fifth in the Olympic Games final and gain a seventh-place in the authoritative Track and Field News world 800 rankings.

   Also in the Millrose 600 field will be Phoebe Wright, the former U.S. indoor 800 titlist, and Erica Moore, 2012 World Indoor Championships surprise 800 bronze medalist Erica Moore.

  The American indoor 600 record of 1:26.56 has been held by Delisa Walton-Floyd since 1981. It's clearly on shaky ground now.

  As February makes the turn into March, Wilson counts on being in Albuquerque for the U.S. Indoor National Championships.

  While Ajeé is clearly the headliner, the Wilson family's rooting interests continue to be well divided.

   Starring - in the hurdles and relays - for Temple University is big sister/ Owls' senior Jade Wilson, a very well-spoken communications major. 

    Still starring for Neptune High School are Brietta Wilson, a senior member of the girls team, and Zachary Jr., a junior member of the boys squad.
Dad Zachary Wilson Sr. has plenty of running background, too, as a frequent entrant in Jersey Shore area road races.

     As the indoor season heats up, so does the chatter on the blog-sites.

    Catch this sampling from Letsrun.com's "on the boards."

    Blogger One:  "To do it (the 1:27.30 600) so early in the season, that's what makes it so impressive."

    Blogger Two: "Ajeé Wilson will be the U.S. Number One at 800 before the end of the year.  She may be that right now."

    Blogger Three: "This (the women's 600) could be the best event at Millrose. Both of them (Montano and Wilson) should take down that 600 record.  It's going to be an extended sprint."

     And Blooger Four topped them all: "I think we may be looking at the female version of David Rudisha."

      At 23, Kenya's Rudisha won the London men's Olympic final in a world-record 1:40.91.

      USA's Madeline Manning struck women's Olympic 800 gold in 2:00.92 in 1968. The late Kim Gallagher (silver in 1984, bronze in 1988) is the nation's only other Olympic 800 medalist.   Ajeé Wilson will mark her 19th birthday on March 8, 2013.

   Bottom line: Can anyone out there read the writing on the wall?

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