By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
PORTLAND, ORE. (19-Mar) -- In both of their 800m preliminary races here at the IAAF World Indoor Championships today, Americans Ajee' Wilson and Laura Roesler led nearly wire to wire. Destined to control their races on home soil, the pair earned automatic births into Sunday's final with times of 2:00.61 and 2:04.38, respectively. Reflecting on their victories, both Wilson and Roesler separately noted that there was one major key to their success: a positive and focused mindset.
For many years, Wilson has had the same mantra going into races: follow the advice of coach Derek Thompson. Whether racing indoors or out, at an IAAF Diamond League or a small domestic competition, she adheres to her mentor's instructions.
That, Wilson told Race Results Weekly, has made it easy to execute on race day. All she has to do is run.
"It makes a world of a difference. I think I've said before, I never feel uncomfortable or super worried in a race because usually every step by step how it goes, it's how he tells me it's going to go," said Wilson, nodding her head in agreement. "So I'm always mentally prepared for whatever is going to happen."
Of course, Wilson has great reason to have faith in Thompson. He has led her to World Youth and World Junior titles, and a world-leading time of 2:00.09 this year. He is the leader of Philadelphia's strong Juventus Track Club.
"I just do what my coach tells me to do. Derek does a great job all the time, preparing me for these kind of races," Wilson said. He is in Portland to assist Wilson through the final. "I know that the program that he has always makes sure I am ready."
Here today, Wilson took the pole and refused to let Kenya's Margaret Wambui have any taste of the lead. Keeping the pace hot through 200 in 28.72 and 400 in 59.66, Wilson assured that --even if something drastic happened and she was to finish outside of the top spot-- that she'd be advancing to the final based on time.
"My coach told me to get out and if someone took the lead he didn't want me any farther than second coming off the first turn. I found myself in the lead and ran comfortable," she said.
At the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships, American Chanelle Price won gold in a similar fashion. Pushing hard from the gun will likely be Wilson's strategy come Sunday, daring the rest of the field to hold on and survive.
Roesler's mindset here today was vastly different than the one she possessed a week ago at the USA National Championships. There, she was tired and a bit skeptical. Now she is confident and poised for a medal run.
"My body feels the same but I felt tired last week and I was thinking to myself I felt tired, and [as a result] I felt tired," she said. "I was thinking to myself [today] I don't feel tired -- you've got to stick to top-two absolutely, no other spot. Mindset was everything."
Roesler, coached by Rose Monday, was oozing with confidence after her successful run. Shutting the door on Ethiopia's Tigst Assefa with a powerful move and a subtle elbow, Roesler extended her stride through the final lap before winning in 2:04.38.
"It felt like a fast 2:04 but the time doesn't matter," she said. "It ended up being so slow and it plays into my hands so I can't complain. Just turned into a tactical affair and I was up front and had the advantage at that point." Across the line, Roesler pumped her fists to a rousing ovation from the crowd. As an Oregon Duck, she is a natural fan favorite.
"I don't think I've ever really celebrated in my life but obviously that tells you how much that means to me," she said. "I wanted to have a good showing in my first World Champs. I didn't want to just make the team, you know, be one and done. It's exciting because now I get the opportunity to mix it up and see what I can do at one of the highest stages so it's going to be fun."
Never in the history of these championships has the USA taken two spots on the medal podium in a women's 800m final. The red, white, and blue have scored one gold and four bronze medals over the meet's 15 editions. This year, Roesler thinks history could be made.
Of course, it will be tough to do: Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba set an indoor national record in the second heat, winning in 2:02.37 over Britain's Lynsey Sharp (2:02.75). It was Niyonsaba's first ever indoor 800m.
"I think the U.S. has a good chance of nabbing at least one, maybe two medals," Roesler was overheard telling a television crew. Her assertive look said it all.
PHOTO: Laura Roesler after speaking with the media during the preliminary round of the 800m at the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly)