Wilson Gets 800m Gold At Junior Champs

Ajee' Wilson dominated the 800m event on Thursday. Photo: Star Ledger

It was the United States’ first distance gold medal.

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

In a near replay of Tuesday’s opening day of competition, world junior, national junior and national high school records were broken in the women’s 3000m steeplechase, kicking off a day that saw three distance finals contested at the IAAF World Junior Championships. Kenya’s Daisy Jepkemei and America’s Brianna Nerud set world leading and national high school marks, respectively, the second time each has done so in three days. In the middle distances, American Ajee Wilson picked up the 800m gold in a very close finish with Britain’s Jessica Judd.

After her world junior leading mark in Tuesday’s 3000m steeplechase preliminary round, Jepkemei returned to the track Thursday evening hoping to better her qualifying time of 9:56.33. Leading through both one and two kilometers, Jepkemei pulled away from Ethiopia’s Tejinesh Gebisa for the win, stopping the clock at a new world junior lead of 9:47.22. The 15-year-old Jepkemei ultimately led four women under ten minutes, and seven under 10:04.

“I expected a medal, but I did not know the color of it. So I am very happy with the Gold,” Jepkemei told the IAAF. “I knew that it would be a tough race against the Ethiopian girl. It was my first international steeplechase for Kenya.”

Gebisa wound up taking silver in 9:50.51, holding off another Kenyan, Stella Jepkosgei Rutto in the final meters. Rutto earned bronze in 9:50.58.

“I started too late in the last lap to fight for the silver,” stated Rutto talking with the IAAF. “I am happy for Daisy and to obtain this second medal for my country, even if it is only the bronze medal.”

Two days after setting a new American national high school record in the event, Brianna Nerud broke her mark again, finishing fifth in 10:00.72, which was also a national junior record. The Syracuse University-bound Nerud, who went to North Shore High School on Long Island, shaved another eight seconds from Tuesday’s 10:08.15 personal best.

Nerud wasn’t America’s only athlete shining on day three of the six day competition. Ajee’ Wilson of Neptune, N.J., earned the nation’s first distance gold medal by winning the 800m in 2:00.91.

“I am really glad I finished first. When I need the victory I just bring it out,” Wilson told the IAAF. “That is my secret.”

Last year’s IAAF World Youth Championships 800m winner, Wilson is now the second fastest half-miler in American high school history; only Kim Gallagher has run the distance faster (2:00.07 in 1982).

Wilson didn’t win her final easily, though. After taking the lead from Great Britain’s Jessica Judd with less than a straight remaining, the Briton came back to challenge her meters from the finish. Judd would cross the line just five one-hundredths of a second behind Wilson, in 2:00.96. The two were more than two seconds ahead of bronze medalist Manal El Bahraoui of Morocco.

“The homestretch was the biggest moment in my life so far,” said Judd, 17, according to the IAAF. “I even thought that I perhaps won gold. But in two years I can take part again in the World Juniors in Eugene. I hope to win gold there.”

In the final event of the day, Qatar’s Hamza Driouch won the men’s 1500m title, timing 3:39.04. Out front at 800m and 1200m, Driouch was able to maintain the lead coming through the tape by running 52.7 seconds for the final lap.

“El G would have been hanging on for dear life,” Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis said of Driouch through his Twitter feed.

Hillary Cheruiyot Ngetich and Abdelhadi Labäli finished second (3:40.39) and third (3:40.60), respectively.

“I am very happy to win this race today because my rivals were very strong, especially the Africans,” Driouch, 17, told the IAAF. Interestingly, instead of training in Qatar before the championships, Driouch prepared in Sweden, England, and even Barcelona, noting that the weather conditions close to home were unsuitable for training.

“The gold medal here will give me extra confidence,” he said.

On Friday, no distance event finals will be contested. Heats of the men’s 3000m steeplechase and 800m, as well as the women’s 1500m are set for the day’s morning session.

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