July 12, 2012
By Bob Thomas, Seminoles.com
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As a high school track & field star Ajee Wilson has set herself apart by building one of the most impressive middle distance resumes ever produced in the United States.
Make that the world.
Wilson, who will arrive on the Florida State campus next month to begin her freshman year, captured the World Junior Championship gold medal at 800 meters Thursday in Barcelona, Spain. The Neptune, New Jersey native and Seminole signee ran the second fastest time in U.S. high school history – 2:00.91 – to claim the country’s first gold medal in the event at a World Junior Championships.
“It’s amazing (to win here),” Wilson said. “I’m so happy I PR’d and did what I was able to do.”
What Wilson did was run a virtually flawless strategic race in the final, overhauling Great Britain’s Jessica Judd as the two rocketed off the final curve.
“It was an amazing race from Ajee,” said FSU Director of Sprints, Hurdles & Relays Ken Harnden. “She showed patience far beyond her years. To be the reigning World Youth and Junior World champion at the same time is a giant feat.”
Wilson won the World Youths Championship last summer in Lille, France.
Harnden was on hand in Barcelona, along with fellow FSU assistant coach Devin West, as the magic unfolded.
“I noticed the first lap was fast, so I stayed back in striking distance,” said Wilson, who was seventh at 400 meters. “The last 300, I wanted to put myself in good position. At 200, I felt good, but I wanted to pace off the leader (Judd) because I didn’t know what she had.”
Wilson charged from sixth to second as the pack closed in on the 200 mark.
“In the last 100, I just went all out,” Wilson added. “I wasn’t sure how far (Judd) was behind me, but I maintained my form and was prepared if she came I would be able to switch to another gear. When I was at the meet last time, (the 2010 World Junior Championships in Moncton), I placed fifth and I remember telling myself that I wanted to be the one on top of the podium.”
Charging off the final turn, Wilson shot by Judd, opening up a narrow lead before the Brit made one final surge as they approached the finish. She held on for the World Junior title by .05, as both runners established new career-bests.
Wilson’s 2:00.91 is the second-fastest by a high schooler in U.S. history, eclipsed only by Kim Gallagher’s 2:00.07 in 1982 – 30 years ago.
For the sake of comparison, Wilson ran faster than the winning time at last month’s NCAA Championship meet. The Florida State record for 800 meters is held by Laura Gerber (2:01.39), whom Harnden coached to that mark in 2003.
“Today everyone truly witnessed a great talent; a young lady that has been truly blessed,” said FSU cross country coach Karen Harvey, who along with Harnden recruited Wilson. “We’re so excited at Florida State to be on this journey with her toward future excellence.”
Wilson isn’t the only future or current Seminole competing in Barcelona. Canada’s Sage Watson, who is also a member of FSU’s incoming freshman class, advanced to the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles in a new personal-best of 58.99. Watson’s semifinal round is scheduled for Friday.
“Sage ran a tough race this morning, qualifying easily for the semifinal,” Harnden said. “We are eager to see her run tomorrow.”
Florida State rising sophomore Stephen Newbold, who was the ACC Freshman of the Year both indoors and outdoors this past season, will participate in both the 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams for the Bahamas. Newbold will be on the track for the first time since contributing to FSU’s school-record 4×100 performance at the NCAA Championship meet, today in the opening round of relay action.