The coronavirus pandemic deprived them of the opportunity of competing in this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, meaning that Ajee’ Wilson and Raevyn Rogers have no competitions for the foreseeable future in what should have been a busy year.
Now the nation’s two best 800-meter runners – both of whom train in Philadelphia with Juventus Track Club and coach Derek Thompson – have time on their hands, trying to find a way to prepare for an undefined future.
Still, there is little disappointment or frustration. They feel the International Olympic Committee’s call last month to set back the Games for a year was the right call.
“When the announcement was made, it was kind of a relief just to know that we didn’t have to seemingly choose the health of ourselves and others in going after our Olympic dream,” Wilson, 25, the U.S. record-holder in both the indoor and outdoor 800, said in a recent interview.
“I was just kind of thinking about big picture – risks involved during the Games and all that jazz for sure. So I’m looking forward to reworking, replanning and we’ll have the framework hopefully to still be as prepared and ready when it comes around again.”
Rogers, 23, a Houston native who moved east more than 18 months ago after a stellar collegiate career at Oregon, said the postponement gave her peace of mind.
“I just feel like everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I know this is something that’s just devastating to others but I feel like it’s a bigger picture than just what’s in front of us. The peace of mind part comes from my belief, my faith. Religion and my faith is something that I’m built on, so the fact that this is happening hasn’t really shaken me up.”
Wilson has compiled a long list of achievements since turning pro right out of high school in Neptune, N.J., and training while attending Temple. The 2016 Owls graduate set a national indoor record of 1 minute, 58.29 seconds in February at the Millrose Games, and her outdoor U.S. record of 1:55.61 is almost three years old. She is a 10-time indoor and outdoor U.S. champion in the 800.
Rogers competed through her junior season at Oregon before joining the professional ranks. She was a six-time NCAA champion with the Ducks and won the 2017 Bowerman Award as the nation’s top female track and field athlete. She also won two watches at the 2017 Penn Relays, being part of carnival record teams in the sprint medley and 4x400 relays.
Right now, the athletes’ training consists of maintaining fitness and running on their own. Wilson, of West Oak Lane, sometimes runs on trails along Wissahickon Creek and a dog park in Wyncote. Rogers, who lives in Center City, likes Kelly Drive and tries to practice social distancing but admits she gets “a little paranoid about passing people.”
“We’ve kind of gone back to a fall-based training schedule of mostly runs,” Wilson said. “We’re just getting some distance training – fit, maintaining, not as focused on being sharp because at this point, there is no need for the upcoming future. But for the most part, I’m just logging miles.”
Rogers said she’ll get together with her friends on Face Time to do workouts but she knows it’s time for a run “when I’ve been in the house too long.”
“It’s been ranging from every other day to maybe every two days or so,” she said. “I try to get running in but I try to make sure that I’m still maintaining my strength in other areas, not just running-wise. So I just try to work on little things. I do abs. I try to stretch, and I need to do that a little more.”
Wilson, who competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics, and Rogers engaged in a spirited duel at last year’s World Track and Field Championships where Rogers, with a time of 1:58.18, edged Wilson for second place behind champion Halimah Nakaayi of Uganda. Wilson took the bronze medal in 1:58.84.
Rogers said the performance boosted her confidence, that it was “encouraging, and gets me excited about what’s to come.”
Thompson’s core training group consists of seven women and one man. Wilson said she was excited when Rogers joined the group because of her speed in the 400, and that she’s fun to work with.
“My weaknesses are her strengths, and my strengths are her weaknesses,” she said. “So we’re training with each other in that way. Off the track, she’s super caring and sweet. I think the best word to describe her is a sweet person, to just support each other as we go through these journeys.”
Rogers said Wilson has become more of a sister to her.
“She’s just a genuine person,” she said. “She’s done more for our relationship just by being herself, being the Ajee’ that people see on the track. We train but our practices are filled with fun and just normal things. It’s more of a friendship, a sisterhood type of thing.”
While the urgency to train may not be there, the dream remains.