World youth champion Ajee Wilson is certainly not at sea in Barcelona

World youth champion Ajee Wilson is certainly not at sea in Barcelona

Provided by IAAF

Barcelona - The old saying don't judge a book by its cover could be applied to Ajee Wilson's outing in the heats of the women's 800m at the IAAF World Junior Championships on Tuesday.

The American middle distance runner, who hails from the wonderfully named Neptune in New Jersey, was just content to cruise through to the semi-finals in second place in the slowest of the morning's five heats.

However, coming from a place named after the god of the seas – and where could be more appropriate for someone from her town to display her talents than on a track overlooking the Mediterranean? – Wilson could prove to be a petite goddess of the track when the final is contested on Thursday, despite the women's 800m being among the most open events on the programme in Barcelona.

"I just wanted to make sure I had a position in the top three so I just ran securely," reflected the 2011 World Youth Championships gold medallist over two laps after her return to competition on European soil.

"That's OK. Normally I don't worry about any set pace, I just go with the race and stay close to whoever takes it out. The plan was just to make the semi-finals (which will be contested on Wednesday).

Among her rivals in the next two days are Great Britain's Jessica Judd, the 2011 World Youth Championships bronze medallist behind Wilson, who leads the morning's qualifiers with 2:02.71, her compatriot Emily Dudgeon and the very impressive young Ukraine runner Anastasiya Thkachuk, who won the European junior title last summer.

"There's definitely a lot of talent in this event here but I can't say I've been following what other people have been doing, is that bad?" joked Wilson.

Professional attitude

Perhaps they have been studying her instead. Wilson is now a stronger runner than last summer thanks to having done cross country for the first time last autumn: "that's the real difference between this year and last year."

She has also grown more mature mentally. "This winter I also started jumping into professional races for experience, that's made me a better racer."

Still only 17 at the time, she got a place on the 800m start line at the famous Millrose Games in New York and justified the invitation by finishing fourth in an indoor personal best of 2:04.13.

Her outdoor best of 2:02.61 came at the Samsung Diamond League meeting in New York last month.

"Those races have definitely helped me prepare for here. In Lille, I raced well, I have a good turn of pace but there is always something you can learn; it's helped maintain my confidence that I can run with any of the girls here even if a few of them have run faster than me," she added.

High school sacrifices

However, her bid for success in the Catalan city has involved some sacrifices.

"I missed my own high school prom, although I did get to go to a friend's one. I missed my high school graduation as it coincided with the qualifiers (US Junior Championships) to come here. But it was like: 'Graduation or trip to Barcelona' so it wasn't a difficult decision."

Making the podium, regardless of the position - and no American woman has ever won a World Junior Championships 800m gold or silver medal - would also give Wilson the chance to hang something on her wall again as her gold medal from Lille went astray a few months ago.

"I've lost it, well it's not really lost, it's somewhere in my house but I can't find it," she admitted rather sheepishly.

Wilson is now set to start her collegiate career at Florida State University next month, a location she chose after being courted by several other top US colleges for athletics.

"The coaching staff, first of all, they were all so wonderful to me. I felt like I could learn a lot from them. I liked the way the campus was set up, where everything seemed close. And the students made me feel like I could fit right in. Of all the schools I saw, I felt I would be most comfortable there," she added, commenting on her place of learning for the next four years.

Before she takes that trip south though, she will be looking to take the rest of the world's top junior 800m runners out of their own comfort zone in the coming days.

Phil Minshull for the IAAF