NEW YORK — Ajee’ Wilson, the world’s fastest female 800m runner in 2014, could only watch the 2015 World Championships 800m final.
“It was hard,” Wilson, 21, said Saturday. “I really wanted to be there.”
But she couldn’t, not after a stress reaction in her left tibia. It was announced that she withdrew from the Worlds team on Aug. 10, the same day U.S. men’s 800m champion Nick Symmonds was left off the team due to a contract dispute that gained many more headlines.
At Worlds, the final proved a surprise. Kenyan Eunice Sum, the favorite and top rival of Wilson based on times in 2014 and 2015 (before Wilson’s injury), took bronze. Maryna Arzamasava grabbed upset gold for Belarus.
“It gave me hope for this year because anything can happen,” Wilson said. “I’m just hopeful that this year will be my time.”
Wilson is off to a promising start. She won the 800m at the indoor Armory Track Invitational in Manhattan on Saturday by .03 over Laura Roesler (video here).
Roesler, the 2014 NCAA champion from Oregon and runner-up to Wilson at the 2014 U.S. Championships, missed most of 2015 due to a partial right Achilles tear.
Wilson said she raced through her shin injury last June, from a victory at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York on June 13 through the U.S. Championships final June 28.
At Nationals, Wilson memorably lost her right Adidas shoe while jostling for the lead near the start of the final curve with 200 meters to go, saying she got clipped (race video here).
Wilson persevered and grabbed third place by .04 while running with one shoe on. The top three finishers earned berths on the World Championships team.
Wilson said that while she was injured before the U.S. Championships, she never considered not competing at the meet.
“I was still kind of in denial that it was a problem,” Wilson said, adding that while the final didn’t aggravate the injury, “after USAs, it kind of just got to a point where you had to shut it down so I would be ready for this year.”
Wilson took about three weeks off from training completely and was back to normal.
“It was just poor timing,” said Wilson, a New Jersey native who turned professional after high school and placed sixth at the 2013 World Championships before elevating to fastest woman in the world in 2014 and second-fastest in 2015 before she shut down.
This summer, Wilson is among several threats to break a 44-year drought of U.S. Olympic titles in track races longer than 400 meters.
She may be the best hope to do so, that is if she can prevail at the Olympic trials. Not only is Roesler back, but she’ll also have to contend with veterans Alysia Montaño and Brenda Martinez.
The latter duo finished directly in front of Wilson at the 2013 Worlds and the 2015 Nationals, but neither made the final at Worlds last year (Montaño fell in her first-round heat).
The Olympic trials final is July 4 in Eugene, Ore., with the top three in line to make the Olympic team. Wilson will hope to be there with a stronger left tibia and a more secure right shoe.
“Ever since I started running, it’s been really deep in the 800m,” she said. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”