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Albuquerque, February 21, 2014 -- At just 19, Ajee' Wilson has accomplished more as half-miler than most athletes do in an entire career. In 2011 she was the world youth champion, in 2012 she was the world junior champion, and in 2013 she was sixth at the IAAF World Championships where she clocked an American junior record of 1:58.21. Track & Field News ranked her the #8 800m runner in the world last year, and she doesn't turn 20 until May.
Here in Albuquerque, the adidas-sponsored Wilson is focused on the first important goal of her 2014 season: to retain her USA Indoor 800m title which she won on this same track at the Albuquerque Convention Center last year. In the thin air here--Albuquerque is at 1620m of altitude--she ran 2:02.64 over a weak field.
"It would be great to be able to repeat," Wilson told Race Results Weekly yesterday. "I just hope I can."
Wilson won't have to worry about time here, only her finish position. The top-2 athletes qualify for the IAAF World Championships in Sopot next month, and Wilson already has her time qualifier because the IAAF allowed outdoor marks from last season. With the high altitude slowing the race down anyway, Wilson is free to focus strictly on head-to-head running.
"I think I'll always do better when I'm in a racing mentality rather than having to run for time, anyway," Wilson explained. "I'm competitive. When the situation comes I'm able to rise to the occasion."
Wilson comes into this weekend's meet with a big victory under her belt: the 800m at last Saturday's Millrose Games. There she ran in a youth-focused race, clocking 2:01.81 to beat Canada's Jenna Westaway and Jamaica's Natoya Goule. That was a big improvement over her 1000m race at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix one week earlier in Boston. In that event--which was won by Mary Cain in a world junior record of 2:35.80--Wilson finished last in a field of 10 in 2:48.88. She said that she became distracted by a slight Achilles pain which threw her off her game.
"There's always a mental component that comes with running that's sometimes hard to deal with," Wilson told reporters yesterday. "In Boston for that race I wasn't really one hundred percent. I had a little kind of twinge in my Achilles. I mean, I was still telling myself I was ready to go out and race, but when you think negatively for a little bit it takes a toll, even though you might not think it does."
In tomorrow's preliminary round, Wilson faces Lauren Wallace (2:02.91 PB), Erica Moore (1:59.97) and and Molly Beckwith-Ludlow (1:59.12) in the first of three heats. That's a very solid trio; Moore was the surprise IAAF World Indoor Championships bronze medalist in 2012 before dealing with both injuries and illness, and Beckwith-Ludlow finished fourth at the 2012 USA Olympic Trials before taking 2013 off to get married. Wilson said she's ready.
"As of late, we've kind of changed it up a bit, and I have to say I've definitely been working harder than ever at this point."