2016 World Indoors W 800 Preview: Ajee Wilson Looks To Make It Two Victories In A Row For American Women

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Chanelle Price delivered gold as a massive underdog in 2014; can Wilson do the same as the favorite?

By LetsRun.com
March 165, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. — For the first time in 29 years, the U.S. will play host to the IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championships. Portland, Ore., will be the site as the world’s top athletes head to the Pacific Northwest for the four-day meet which begins on Thursday. LetsRun.com is in Portland all week and we’ll have tons of on-site coverage for you to digest. We’ll kick things off by previewing the mid-d/distance events — here’s a look at the women’s 800.

What: 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships

When: March 17-20, 2016

Where: Oregon Convention Center, Portland, Oregon

Prize Money: A total of US$2,464,000 is on offer from the IAAF. There is also a US$50,000 bonus for any athlete setting a world record during the four-day championships.

Individual events (total US$ 2,288,000)
1st US$40,000
2nd US$20,000
3rd US$10,000
4th US$8000
5th US$6000
6th US$4000

Relays per team (total US$176,000)
1st US$40,000
2nd US$20,000
3rd US$10,000
4th US$8000
5th US$6000
6th US$4000

Schedule * Entries * TV/streaming information * All LRC coverage

Women’s 800 (prelims Saturday, 2:15 p.m. ET; final Sunday 4:15 p.m. ET)

NameCountryPBSBComment
Ajee WilsonUSA1:57.672:00.09World leader is undefeated in ’16 and looked great at USAs
Lynsey SharpGreat Britain1:57.712:00.30Has run fast times but has never made World final at any level
Laura RoeslerUSA1:59.042:00.59Comeback year ran into slight hiccup at USAs but she still took 2nd
Christina HeringGermany1:59.542:00.93German version of Ajee Wilson: 21 years old and already has 3 German titles
Malika AkkaouiMorocco1:57.642:00.96’15 1500 WC finalist has only lost once in ’16
Habitam AlemuEthiopia2:01.272:01.31Youngster is unbeaten in ’16; can she follow Mo Aman + win Worlds at 18?
Anita HinriksdottirIceland2:00.492:01.59Unbeaten this year but hasn’t raced anybody good
Hedda HynneNorway2:01.822:01.82 2:01.82 is a lifetime PR in her last race
Tigist AssefaEthiopia1:59.242:02.014th at African champs in ’14 but very few results since then
Adelle TraceyGreat Britain2:01.102:02.15Has never broken 2:02 indoors but pulled off the upset to win UK champs
Lovisa LindhSweden2:01.732:02.33
Anastasiia TkachukUkraine2:00.212:02.44
Margaret WambuiKenya2:00.492:02.59’14 World Junior champ went out in 1st round at Worlds in ’15
Liga VelvereLatvia2:02.792:03.08
Rose Mary AlmanzaCuba1:57.702:04.18WC semifinalist; 4th at ’15 Pan Am Games
Natoya GouleJamaica1:59.632:04.213-time NCAA champ for LSU/Clemson
Francine NiyonsabaBurundi1:56.59N/AHas run extremely fast but has never raced indoors
Can Wilson claim another title in Portland this weekend?

Can Wilson claim another title in Portland this weekend?

Ajee Wilson has made steady progress since bursting onto the scene with a victory at the U.S. junior championships at age 16 in 2010. Until her 2015 season was shortened by injury, she dropped her PR like clockwork every year, moving from 2:07.08 in 2009 down to 1:57.67 — #6 in U.S. history — in 2014. So far, she’s claimed world titles at the youth (2011) and junior (2012) levels. This weekend in Portland, she’ll look to take the next step in her development by becoming a senior world champion for the first time.

While an indoor 800 is never predictable, everything that’s happened so far in 2016 points to a Wilson gold medal. Wilson herself has never been in better shape at this time of year, running a world-leading 2:00.09 at Millrose on February 20 and following it up with an impressive negative-split 2:00.87 victory at USAs (61.47-59.40) that suggested she is capable of much, much faster.

The three women directly behind Wilson on the 2016 world list — Joanna Jozwik, Brenda Martinez, Melissa Bishop — are all skipping the 800 at World Indoors. Of next two fastest women who will be competing in Portland, Wilson has beaten both of them, taking down Lynsey Sharp at the Armory Track Invite on February 5 and defeating Laura Roesler three times this year, most recently in convincing fashion at USAs.

Wilson has shown an ability to win races from the front or behind and despite her youth (she’s still only 21), has plenty of experience running indoors. She is the woman to beat.

Wilson knows from experience that holding favorite status doesn’t mean anything at a global championship. Two years ago, she entered World Indoors with the world’s fastest time but didn’t even make it out of the first round. Instead, it was American Chanelle Price who earned the gold medal.

Wilson’s U.S. teammate this time around, Laura Roesler, is unlikely to win gold in Portland as she looked (and felt) flat at USAs, but if she can run more like she did earlier in the season (when she almost upset Wilson in New York on February 5 and ran 2:00.49 at Millrose on February 20), she’s certainly a medal threat.

There are a number of other women who could seize gold if Wilson slips up. Let’s run through them quickly:

  • Lynsey Sharp, Great Britain — Sharp is a veteran of the circuit (she won the Birmingham Diamond League meet in 2014 and ran 1:57.71 to win the Berlin ISTAF meet in 2015) who earned Commonwealth and European silver two years ago and she’s run 2:00.30 this year (only Wilson has run faster among entrants). The issue is that Sharp hasn’t made a global final on the track and her last two races have gone poorly (by her standards): 2:01.55 for 5th at Millrose and 2:03.50 for 3rd at the British Championships. Adelle Tracey, who beat Sharp in the latter race, likely won’t contend for the win in Portland but could be a medal threat.
  • Malika Akkaoui, Morocco — The 28-year-old Moroccan doesn’t have a defining performance to hang her hat on, but she races a lot and has been very consistent throughout her career. Last year she made the 1500 final at Worlds and would have had a shot to do it in the 800 too (she ran 1:59.05 in the semis) if everyone didn’t go crazy in that event in Beijing. She ran 2:00.96 in her last meet in Metz on February 21.
  • Habitam Alemu, Ethiopia — Alemu will look to emulate countryman Mo Aman and win World Indoor gold at the tender age of 18. She didn’t make it out of the first round at Worlds last year, but she took fourth at the All-Africa Games and has won all three of her races in 2016, including a big win in Dusseldorf on February 3 when she took down last year’s Euro indoor champ Selina Buchel, 1:58 woman Fabienne Kohlmann and two 2015 World Championship finalists in Joanna Jozwik and Rababe Arafi. Alemu’s pb is just 2:01.27 but she has tremendous upside and could certainly improve on that in Portland.
  • Rose Mary Almanza, Cuba — 1:57.70 is a seriously good personal best and she’s got plenty of global experience, competing at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 and 2015 Worlds. Though the 23-year-old has never made a global final, she’s improved steadily over the past seven years, running 1:59 every year from 2012 to 2014 before breaking through with a 1:57.70 in Paris last July. The problem for Almanza is that she isn’t used to having to be fit this early. Worlds will only be the second indoor race of her life; the first didn’t go great, as she ran 2:04.18, losing handily to Alemu in France last month.
  • Natoya Goule, Jamaica — Goule has more indoor experience than most Jamaicans, as she claimed NCAA indoor titles in 2013 and 2015 (the latter in a meet-record 2:01.64), but she’s run just 2:04 in two 800s this year and would be fortunate to make the final here.
  • Margaret Wambui, Kenya — Looked great in winning World Junior gold in Oregon in 2014 but only raced at three meets in 2015 (went out in prelims at Worlds). She ran 2:02.59 for second in Sadabell, Spain, in her only race of 2016 on February 19 (lost to Akkaoui).

The Wild Card: Francine Niyonsaba

In 2012, as a 19-year-old, Niyonsaba finished sixth at the Olympics and ran 1:56.59 in September — a time no woman has bettered since. Niyonsaba then ran amazingly well in three races in 2013, recording Diamond League wins in Shanghai, Eugene and Paris (the latter two in 1:56 and 1:57). But after that win in Paris in July, Niyonsaba disappeared and didn’t race again until April 2015.

From April through July, she ran six 800s in Kenya, never breaking 2:07. But she returned in September and won two 800s in Italy, running 1:59.62 and 1:57.62.

In January, Niyonsaba began working with Mark Rowland and the Oregon Track Club on a trial basis.

“She’s been here I’m getting to know her, being able to work [with her] on a day-by-day basis which has been thoroughly enjoyable,” Rowland said to LetsRun.com. “Early days, you know. Lots of things that need to be done. She’ll run but clearly [she’s] not as prepared as she will be for the summer.”

Rowland said that Niyonsaba did not keep detailed training logs for the past few years and that he doesn’t know much about her previous training situation so he’s “thrown the kitchen sink at her to see what she’ll respond to.” One area in particular that they’ve worked on is introducing Niyonsaba to OTC’s strength and conditioning program, which Rowland said is “always a tough adjustment” for new athletes but one that he believes will pay dividends down the road.

Considering Niyonsaba ran faster than Ajee Wilson ever has in her last race, Niyonsaba has to be taken seriously as a medal threat. But she hasn’t raced at all in 2016 and never indoors — Rowland said they couldn’t find a good opportunity on the West Coast — and like many of Rowland’s athletes, is firmly focused on the summer. For Niyonsaba, World Indoors represents a chance to get a mark down and provide evidence of her current fitness, which will allow Rowland to formulate a plan going forward.

LRC Prediction: 1) Wilson 2) Akkaoui 3) Alemu The 800 is pretty much a crapshoot, but we feel good about picking Wilson for gold. Sharp would be a good pick for silver a few weeks ago but she’s struggled recently, so we’ll go with Akkaoui. And we like Alemu to continue her ascent with a bronze in Portland.

If Wilson loses, we think the winner is Niyonsaba who is a HUGE wildcard.