2022 USA Indoors Women’s Preview: Can Elle Purrier St. Pierre Double Up? Can Ajee’ Wilson Win Her 8th Title in 9 Years?

By Jonathan Gault
February 24, 2022

The USATF Indoor Championships are upon us, with the top two finishers in each event this weekend in Spokane booking their ticket to the World Indoor Championships in Belgrade (March 18-20) — provided they have the qualifying standard. We previewed the men’s events on Thursday. Now it’s time to take a look at the women.

In some events, the fields at USA Indoors are very strong. In the women’s 1500 on Saturday, the top four finishers from last year’s Olympic Trials will all be in action: Olympians Elle Purrier St. PierreCory McGee, and Heather MacLean, and fourth placer Shannon Osika. Purrier St. Pierre, McGee, and Osika are all entered in Sunday’s 3000 as well, as are 2021 Olympian Alicia Monson, 2021 NCAA champion Courtney Wayment, and Weini Kelati. Those events should be high-quality.

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America’s strongest distance event is the women’s 800, where the US claimed gold and bronze medals from Athing Mu and Raevyn Rogers last year in Tokyo. But it won’t be the strongest event at USAs as neither Mu nor Rogers will be in Spokane despite each having raced multiple times this indoor season. Ajee’ Wilson, a two-time World Indoor medalist riding a five-year win streak at USA Indoors, will be competing.

Also absent: new American indoor 5000 record holder Elise Cranny and Olympic steeple silver medalist Courtney Frerichs — in fact, Bowerman Track Club has not entered a single woman at USA Indoors this year, even though Cranny and entered in The TEN, a track 10,000, next weekend (for full thoughts on that, check out our men’s preview or listen to this week’s edition of the LetsRun.com Track Talk Podcast; we won’t repeat ourselves, but the same logic applies).

There’s still plenty to say about the athletes that will be in Spokane, however, so let’s get to the distance event previews.

P.S. You may want to check now if you have CNBC. With NBC Sports Network no more, CNBC will be airing the meet this weekend in the USA (you can also stream it on Peacock).

*Schedule, entries, & results *TV/streaming *All LRC 2022 USA Indoor coverage

Women’s 800 (prelims Saturday, 6:24 p.m. ET, final Sunday 5:22 p.m. ET): Wilson tries for sixth straight US indoor title

World Indoor standard: 2:01.50
Athletes entered with standard: Olivia Baker, Sophia Gorriaran, Brooke Feldmeier, Laurie Barton, Ajee’ Wilson, Brenna Detra

Ajee’ Wilson raced at the USATF Indoor Championships for the first time in 2013. She was only 18 years old at the time, but she still managed to win the 800 meters in Albuquerque in 2:02.64. In the seven years since, she hasn’t done a whole lot of losing. Check out her career record at USA Indoors:

Year Location Event Result
2013 Albuquerque 800m 1st, 2:02.64
2014 Albuquerque 800m 1st, 2:00.43
2015 Boston 600m 6th, 1:39.39
2016 Portland 800m 1st, 2:00.87
2017 Albuquerque 600m 1st, 1:23.84
2018 Albuquerque 800m 1st, 2:01.60
2019 Staten Island 1000m 1st, 2:34.71
2020 Albuquerque 800m 1st, 2:01.98

Eight starts, seven wins. Not bad. And even the one year Wilson didn’t win can’t be held against her. In the 2015 USA Indoor 600 final, Wilson was clipped from behind and wound up brutally faceplanting. So in races in which Wilson stays on her feet, she has never lost at USA Indoors.

Wilson winning her 7th US indoor title in Albuquerque in 2020 (Phil Bond photo)

Expect that to continue in 2022. Athing Mu may have seized Wilson’s crown as queen of the 800 last year, but even during an uneven season, Wilson was still good enough to make the Olympic team. This year, she’s a perfect three-for-three in indoor races, and though she hasn’t run any crazy times, it’s worth noting that Natoya Goule, whom Wilson beat convincingly at Millrose on January 29, has run 1:59, 1:58, and 1:59 in her three subsequent races.

The other thing working in Wilson’s favor is the competition level. There’s no Mu or Rogers, and no Kate Grace, who lit the European circuit on fire after missing the Olympic team in 2021. Wilson holds the American indoor record at 1:58.29; only one of the other women in the field has even broken 2:00 indoors — Charlene Lipsey, during her inexplicable 2017 season (Lipsey has never run faster than 2:01 indoors before or since).

So Wilson is the woman to beat. But the race for the second spot on the World Championship team should be fierce. The Atlanta Track Club’s Shane Streich may have received the bulk of the attention as this year’s breakout indoor star, but ATC also has a woman running fast in the 800 this year, Olivia Baker. Baker was 4th at USA Outdoors in 2019, so it wouldn’t be quite right to call this a “breakout.” Maybe rebirth is more accurate. Since joining ATC in September, Baker has upped her mileage and is training more like an 800/1500 runner instead of a 400/800 (read more on Baker in this Fast Women profile). That’s taken her down to 2:00.33 this year indoors, within spitting distance of her 2:00.08 outdoor pb.

Brooke Feldmeier has reached a new level in 2022. The 26-year-old, who was 3rd at NCAA Outdoors for Oregon in 2017, has never made a US final but ran an overall pb of 2:00.92 in her season opener in Arkansas on January 29. She hasn’t raced since, but if she’s bumped up her fitness at all in the month since, she will be dangerous in Spokane.

Oh, and did I mention the #3 seed is a 16-year-old high school? That would be Sophia Gorriaran, a junior at the Moses Brown School in Providence, who ran 2:00.58 in Boston on February 11. That’s an all-time world best by a U18 athlete and would have been the high school record had Roisin Willis not beaten Gorriaran to the punch in the same race (Willis is not running USAs). It was only three years ago that a 16-year-old high school junior named Athing Mu showed up to this meet and won the 600, and while no one is expecting Gorriaran to win this weekend, making the team is not out of the question if she can make it to the final.

One last entrant to note is NCAA outdoor champion/Olympic Trials 4th placer Michaela Meyer. Though she only ran 2:02.94 at Millrose, that came in a slow race (remember, Wilson ran 2:01.38 to win) and Meyer is coming off a mile pb of 4:29 at the BU Terrier Invite two weeks ago. She’s also a threat to make the team.

JG prediction: Wilson is the easy pick for the win, but with a number of women capable of running 2:00 or faster, she will have to work for it. I’ll take Baker for second, but I’m far less certain on that pick given Feldmeier and Gorriaran have been running well and Meyer ran 1:58 last year outdoors. All four of them should be in the mix for second.

Women’s 1500 (final Saturday 5:04 p.m. ET): Purrier St. Pierre-Norris rematch looms

World Indoor standard: 4:09.00
Athletes entered with standard: Elle Purrier St. Pierre, Josette Norris, Shannon Osika, Heather MacLean, Cory McGee, Dani Jones

Purrier repeated at Millrose in January (Phil Bond photo)

Since her breakout 4:16 American record in the mile at 2020 Millrose, Elle Purrier St. Pierre has not lost to another American woman in the 1500/mile. In fact, no American has even come close to beating her. Last outdoor season, Purrier St. Pierre soloed 3:58’s at Mt. SAC and the Olympic Trials before a foot injury relegated her to 10th place at the Olympics (though she was still the top American). She’s only raced once this year indoors, but her commanding 4:19.30 victory in the Wanamaker Mile showed that Purrier St. Pierre remains the woman to beat.

While this field is super deep — the top four from last year’s Olympic Trials are all entered — the biggest threat to Purrier St. Pierre’s biggest threat is someone who didn’t run the 1500 at the Trials last year: Josette Norris. Norris ran the 5k instead and struggled in the heat, finishing 8th, but she racked up three top-3 1500m finishes in the Diamond League after the Trials (including 3rd in the DL Final) and ran a pb of 3:59. At Millrose, she ran 4:20.81 to finish 1.51 seconds behind Purrier St. Pierre. If she’s closed the gap to Purrier St. Pierre since then, things could get spicy.

JG prediction: Any of the other four women with the Worlds standard (Shannon Osika, Heather MacLean, Cory McGee, Dani Jones) could be in the mix for second, but a more realistic scenario has them battling out with each other for third. Purrier St. Pierre is a known front-runner, and she’s used that tactic to great effect at the Trials last year and Millrose this year. Why wouldn’t she stick with a winning gameplan? And if Purrier St. Pierre does that, why wouldn’t Norris — who was the clear runner-up at Millrose — finish second behind her once again? I’ll take Purrier St. Pierre for the win with Norris in second to make her first World Championship team.

Women’s 3000 (final Sunday 5:40 p.m. ET): Can Monson hold off the milers?

World Indoor standard: 8:49.00
Athletes entered with standard: Alicia Monson, Weini Kelati, Elle Purrier St. Pierre, Josette Norris, Annie Rodenfels, Ella Donaghu

Pay attention to whoever wins the 1500 on Saturday. Based on the last 10 years of data, the 1500 champ has a 60% chance of winning the 3000 at USA Indoors as well:

Women to have won the 1500/3000 or mile/2-mile double at USA Indoors since 2011

Year Double winner
2011 Jenny Simpson
2012 Jenny Simpson
2015 Shannon Rowbury
2017 Shelby Houlihan
2018 Shelby Houlihan
2020 Shelby Houlihan

Monson will be gunning for her first US title on the track this weekend (Photo by Phil Bond)

The two main contenders in the 1500, Elle Purrier St. Pierre and Josette Norris, are both entered in the 3000 as well, but neither is a slam dunk because they’ll have to face a fresh Alicia Monson. That’s why this one could very well be the best of the six distance races at USAs this weekend.

If you read the 1500 section, you know why Purrier St. Pierre and Norris are threats, but Monson has had a more impressive season than either of them, winning the USA XC title in January by 17 seconds before blasting an 8:31 to win the 3000m at Millrose — good for #4 on the US all-time list (and #1 outside of BU). Interestingly, Monson won that race the same way Purrier St. Pierre won the mile — from the front — and that’s likely how she’ll have to run if she is to win on Sunday. Even on tired legs, Purrier St. Pierre and Norris would be favored against Monson should this race come down to a kick.

So it would seem to be a no-brainer for Monson to push the pace. If she can manage something like her 8:31 at Millrose — or perhaps a little faster — that may be enough to drop the milers, especially if they push each other hard in Saturday’s 1500 final. But if the winning time is somewhere in the high 8:30’s or 8:40’s, expect that list of 1500/3000 double winners to grow a little bit longer.

Should Purrier St. Pierre or Norris scratch, Weini Kelati (8:33 at Millrose) would be favored for second — and heck, if the pace is fast again, she might be good enough to get second anyway. The BAA’s Annie Rodenfels, who has had some impressive sprint finishes this season, is an intriguing dark horse if the 1500 runners don’t end up doubling back, but she’s not strong enough to hang with the likes of Monson and Kelati if this race goes fast.

It’s also interesting to see NCAA champion Courtney Wayment of BYU entered here, but it makes sense. BYU’s conference meet (the MPSF) was last week, and Wayment didn’t race there (BYU didn’t need her as they still won by a ton). She hasn’t raced since February 12, and there’s still another two weeks until NCAAs. Why not run USAs? At the very least, she’ll have a good shot to improve her 8:50 pb.

JG prediction: I’ll go with Monson FTW and Purrier St. Pierre second, and Norris third. If the latter two wind up scratching, give me Kelati for second.

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