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Ajeé Wilson leads the women's 800-meter Olympic Development race during last year's Penn Relays.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

It’s that time of year again, where the top track and field athletes from across the country and around the world gather at Franklin Field to compete at the nation’s oldest and largest track and field competition: Penn Relays. Middle-distance runner and Philadelphia native Ajeé Wilson will be one of the stars to keep an eye on in this year’s rendition of the competition. 

Wilson’s history with Penn Relays extends back to her high school days. Wilson attended the Academy of Allied Health & Science — located in Monmouth County, N.J., around an hour from downtown Philadelphia. As a high schooler, Wilson won titles in the 800-meter event at the 2011 World Youth Championships and 2012 World Junior Championships, posting the third-fastest time ran by a high schooler behind fellow women’s track and field legends Mary Cain and Kim Gallagher. 

“I still remember some of my best memories of Penn Relays were from high school,” Wilson said. “And you know, being in the nosebleeds on Saturday, cheering for the pros, watching Allyson [Felix] race.”

Her track career looked like it would be headed to the collegiate level at Florida State University. However, days before she was set to begin classes and join the Seminole's program, Wilson changed her mind, deciding to focus on her professional career instead. This decision brought her back to the Philadelphia area, where she would graduate from Temple University in 2016 while training with the Juventus Track Club under coach Derek Thompson.

Such decisions are usually unpredictable at best, with no guarantee of success. But Wilson’s track record (pun intended) since turning professional at the tail end of 2012 suggests that she made the right decision. 

At the IAAF Moscow 2013 World Championships, Wilson set the North American and U.S. junior record in the 800m en route to a fifth-place finish. The following year, Wilson would win her first U.S. Senior Outdoor 800m title at the 2014 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif. 

Last year, Wilson secured her first World Indoor Championships title with a season best time of 1:59.09 after earning silver medals at the 2016 and 2018 competitions. Wilson can also claim the title of being the second-fastest American woman in the 800m. In total, Wilson has accumulated five world championship medals, eight national indoor titles, and is a four-time national champion.

Despite her consistent successful outings at the national and international level, Olympic success has remained elusive for Wilson. In both the 2016 and 2020 Olympics, Wilson would reach the semifinals but fail to advance to the finals. While reaching the Olympic semifinals is a huge accomplishment in itself, Wilson remains hungry for more.

“Championship season is always super exciting any time you get the chance to compete at that level and go for a global medal,” said Wilson. “So any time I get the opportunity, it's exciting. I’m excited this year … to be at the top level … and to peak at the [right] time.”

At this year’s Penn Relays, Wilson will be running the 600-meter Olympic Development race for the second straight year — setting her up for a head-to-head battle against Jamaica’s Natoya Goule and last year’s 800m winner Sage Hurta-Klecker. Wilson will enter as a narrow favorite for the event, coming into the weekend with the fastest qualifying time among the field. 

In preparation for this year’s track season, Wilson has changed up her training regimen. 

“The major difference this year is that I’ve been training solo,” said Wilson. “I didn't think I would be a fan because I’m very teammate based … [but] I got to get creative … so I’m excited to get back out there and have a great season.”

The Olympic Development Women's 600-meter Elite race is set to take place on Saturday, April 29 at approximately 3:45 pm.