By Karen Price | Sept. 18, 2019, 3:37 p.m. (ET)

Ajeé Wilson competing in the women's 800-meter final at the IAAF Diamond League Finals on Sept. 6, 2019 in Brussels, Belgium.

 

Even as Ajeé Wilson is coming off her first Diamond Trophy and the $50,000 prize that came with it at this month’s women’s 800-meter final in Brussels, she still remembers her first big prize for a good result in the event.

“I don’t remember the exact meet, but my parents would always do something for races, like if I ran this time or got this place I would get ice cream or some type of treat,” said Wilson, who admits to having not just a sweet tooth but sweet teeth. “At this meet if I ran 2:04 I got to get a puppy. So I ran 2:04 and got a dog named Zeus.”

She was just a kid then, but Wilson is now 25 years old, an Olympian and the top-ranked 800-meter runner for the IAAF World Championships later this month in Doha, Qatar.

After winning a bronze medal at the 2017 world championships in London, she’s aiming for gold in Doha.

Asked what it feels like to be the best in the world, however, Wilson finds it tough to answer.

“I really can’t say I think about it,” the Neptune, New Jersey, native said. “I think when I’m racing or going into a race I just remember when I first started and my mom always said it doesn’t matter who’s on the line or how fast they run, they have to prove it to you on that day. I still have that mentality of anything I’ve done to this point doesn’t matter if I don’t get it done today.”

What she’s done to this point has been pretty remarkable, however.

Wilson set a new U.S. indoor record in the 800-meter in February 2019 with a time of 1:58.60 at the Millrose Games, and in 2017 she set the U.S. outdoor record with a time of 1:55.61 at the Diamond League stop in Monaco, breaking an 18-year-old record.

Internationally, however, she’s often found herself chasing two-time defending Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya of South Africa or 2016 silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, the two runners she finished behind when she smashed the U.S. record in Monaco as well as at the 2017 world championships.

Because neither is eligible to compete in Doha due to IAAF restrictions on testosterone levels, Wilson goes in as the leader of the pack.

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With a time of 2:00.24 in Brussels, Wilson won her fourth Diamond League race of the season, with her closest competitor being U.S. teammate Raevyn Rogers, who finished in 2:00.67. Brussels, Wilson said, was her favorite win of the year, and not just because of the substantial prize money.

For Wilson, the win also brought up memories of her earliest days as an international competitor.

A high school prodigy and junior world champion in the 800-meter who gave up a college scholarship to turn pro and continue training with coach Derek Thompson in Philadelphia, Wilson remembered her first appearance in the Diamond League final in 2013 as she watched the winners collect their trophies.

“I just remember my first season, running in my first Diamond League final and I don’t remember what place I got but I remember going out into the stadium in Zurich for the ceremony and the lights were on and everyone put their phones up and it was such a cool energy and experience, to see the athletes get in the cars and go around, the fireworks, it was such a huge moment for me,” she said. “I remember thinking it would be cool at some point if I were able to do that. Years later to have that moment and be able to reflect on when I first started was super cool.”

There’s still one more big meet that could overtake the Diamond League final as her favorite of the year: worlds.

Wilson said she has no weird pre-meet rituals or routines and is just trying to keep things as normal and relaxed as possible leading up to Doha while fine-tuning and preparing for her race.

Then, of course, there’s Tokyo in less than a year. Wilson was disappointed after not making it past the semifinals in 2016, finishing 12th overall, but she enjoyed sharing the overall experience with her family and getting to take in a fencing event and check out the other sights and sounds of the Games.

And while she may be looking for redemption on the track next summer, for now she’s thinking only of Doha.

“I’m definitely a one day at a time, one meet at a time, one race at a time kind of person,” she said. “With the world championships coming up my main focus is on that, and the Olympics are not too far away, but at least for me it’s still in the back of my head. But it’s definitely something to think about. If I have the opportunity to go again it would be awesome and I’m looking forward to the next year.”

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.