Ajee' Wilson
AP

Ajee’ Wilson learned from sitting out World Championships

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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.”

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40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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