WILSON EARNS BRONZE MEDAL
AND NOW LOOKS AHEAD TO TOKYO 2020.
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
DOHA, QATAR - The message was written all over Ajee' Wilson's face.
She knew she'd run better, faster 800-meter races so many other times in the past. She knew she expected to finish higher in the Monday night women's 800 final of the 17th World Championships at Khalifa International Stadium. She knew that her third-place
run, after coming into the Worlds as the consensus favorite of her sport's cognoscenti to run off with a gold medal, wasn't what she expected.
At the same time, a subtler message became clearer. She knew that she'd be prepared to dig down deeper than she ever had before, that she would absolutely, no-doubts-about-it-be-totally certain that she'd use this one to build the motivation to run the greatest race of her life, at the next big one, the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
And so the 25-year-old pride of Neptune, New Jersey and Temple University graduate, the 10-time USA champion and American record-holder indoors and outdoors, a three-time World Championships finalist, the 2019 Diamond League champion and a 2016 Rio Olympic semifinalist, knows the work to be done on the road ahead.
"Yes. it was disappointing," she told media members in the mixed zone where athletes emerge from the Khalifa track to explain what happened minutes before.
"It wasn't my best race. I'd hoped for better."
After a long flight home, and a suitable break from an arduous training routine under coach Derek Thompson in Philadelphia, Wilson will begin mapping plans for another long journey - to Tokyo.
She'd been so impressive on the Diamond League campaign - with wins in Monaco, Birmingham and Brussels.
She looked great in the first two rounds of these Worlds - twice winning decisively.
And thus she seemed to be headed to another big win as the 800 final got rolling. She bolted to an immediate lead, speeding 200 meters in 26.94, 300 in 42.34 and was co-leader with Jamaica's Natoya Goule at 400 in 57.96. It was Goule still ahead at 500 in 1:13.57 but Wilson right there with her at 1:13.60.
With the slender crowd now roaring, Wilson now made her big move of the race on the backstretch, leading at 600 in 1:28.14 and 700 at 1:43.20. She was still in front with just 30 meters to go.
But it was Uganda's diminuitive Halima Nakaayi who closed fastest of all, speeding the final 200 in 14.73 with a dramatic burst to win it all in 1:58.04, for her nation's first-ever victory in this event,
Wilson's USA and Philadelphia-based training partner, Raevyn Rogers, closed with a big rush, too. a 14.56 for a 1:58.18 finish.
Wilson's final 15.64 brought her to the line in 1:58.84.
As Nakaayi and fourth-place teammate Winnie Nanyondo, draped in Ugandan flags, trotted off to a victory lap, Rogers and Wilson adorned themselves in Old Glories.
"I knew something special was going to happen tonight," said Nakaayi, "So I just kept pushing and pushing. I was feeling strong and in the end I got it.”
Said Rogers, a three-time NCAA champion for Oregon, "silver means a lot to me. It's been a hard year with lots of ups and downs mentally and in other ways so this is a great way to end.”
Wilson's conclusion: I've got to feel good. I wanted to win, of course, and went off hard, but in the last part of the race I saw it was hard. At least I got a medal.”
As so many American ballplayers - some track people, too - have put it, "there's always next year."