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Meet U.S. track star Ajee’ Wilson as she prepares for the Tokyo Olympics

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

For Ajee’ Wilson, the past year during the pandemic was somewhat of a blessing. The American record-holder in the 800 meter used the time away from competition to rest, reset and refocus on the mission, four years after a disappointing finish at the Rio Olympics.

Wilson’s preparation paid off at the United States Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., where temperatures reached 108 degrees and events were delayed as a result. The 27-year-old fought through the heat to place third in the 800-meter final with a time of 1:58.39, just behind Athing Mu and Raevyn Rogers.

The finish qualified Wilson for her second Olympic Games. In Tokyo, she’ll be part of an American group looking to win its first gold medal in the event since 1968 and first medal of any kind since 1988.

“It was a super intense weekend, that being our third race of the series, having the delay with the heat,” Wilson said. “But coming out of that final, I was super relieved. I was excited and happy that I was able to round off an amazing team that we’ll be sending to Tokyo.”

Wilson spoke with Just Women’s Sports about what she’s learned since Rio, the biggest sacrifices she has to make for the Olympics and what she’s most looking forward to in Tokyo.

Had you ever run in heat that intense? How challenging was that?

I didn’t actually get that much time out there in the heat. Probably the hottest I’ve ever run in was 107 a few years before at the U.S. Championships in Sacramento. But right before we started warming up (at the trials), one of the heptathletes passed out, so they had to make the decision that they felt like was going to protect and be safest for most of the athletes.

I’m sure your preparation, recovery and training come into play in a situation like that. Which tactics and supplements have you found to be helpful through your partnership with Thorne?

I use their iron, their basic, two-a-day nutrient, their D3 and, recently since the partnership, their amino complex, which is a recovery drink. The first three that I take are pretty much just to meet deficiencies that I know that I have through routine bloodwork. But the big picture and the big goal is just better health — that’s their campaign. Whether it’s for an elite athlete or the everyday person, avid health lover, their products and their mission are geared towards just being healthier people.

Did you have to make any training accommodations over the past year because of the pandemic?

Yeah, so from March until June last year, we pretty much shut down as a team. So during that time phase, I was just on my own, mainly doing long runs, a workout every now and again. But because the season was pretty much canceled and the games were canceled, we backed off training a little bit, just to not beat yourself up if you don’t have to be ready that soon. And so coming into this season, in the fall, it was about gearing up again and getting back into the swing of preparing for a competitive schedule.

Did that break from your usual training regimen change your perspective of the sport in any way?

It did. I think the one thing I immediately realized was I reconnected with how much I love what I do and how much I love some of the smaller aspects of training and racing that I took a little bit for granted. Things as simple as seeing other friends that I’ve grown to know over the years at competitions, training with my teammates and being competitive are things that I feel like I was able to tap back into and appreciate more during that time.

This will be your second Olympics. Is there anything you took away from Rio that you will apply this time around in Tokyo?

From my specific experience in Rio, and not doing as well as I wanted that whole season, it was coming back home and saying, I need to see what’s going on. I’m not feeling how I should. That was the start of focusing on my health and on the deficiencies that I’m now addressing with Thorne products. It started from the Games, realizing like, hey, I need to take a step back and make sure that my body’s prepared to do what I’m asking it to do.

What changed about your training from before Rio to before Tokyo?

The simplest difference is that stuff that I wasn’t able to do then, I’m able to do now. I think over the years, my workload has gotten higher, and the more trained you get, the better you are at doing what you’re doing. So our workouts are a lot more intense. I have a routine lifting program now. We sprinkled things in here and there before Rio, but I feel like we’ve become more deliberate about that in the year since.

What do you find are the biggest sacrifices you have to make in preparation for an event like the Olympics?

I feel like I always go back and forth with that word because I think since I’ve been doing it for so long, how I live is just what it is. I have my habits, I have my routine. So things that I may have looked at as sacrifices when I first started fresh out of high school, now I don’t view them the same way and I appreciate them for being necessary to be successful. I would say, once upon a time, limiting my social butterfly experiences was something that was difficult to navigate at first. But I think as I’ve gotten older, knowing how to manage my time and having family and friends that are super supportive have made that feel like less of a sacrifice and more as something that I’ve adapted to.

Do you have any pre-race rituals?

As I’m getting ready to go to the track to race, I have “I Was Here” by Beyoncé on repeat. That’s my go-to song. I don’t listen to music when I train or warm up, so that’s the last soundbite that I get before I go. And then usually before warming up for my race, I’ll take a quick power nap, get up and start my warm-up.

Between now and leaving for Tokyo, what will you be doing?

I’ll just be home training. I train out of Philadelphia. I may be racing sometime in between, like in mid-July, but that’s still up in the air. So I’ll just be at home putting in work and preparing as best as I can to get ready to go to Tokyo.

What are you most looking forward to about the Olympics?

I’m really looking forward to just being at the start line of the first round, just taking in the magnitude of the moment. I’m not really sure how everything’s going to play out organization-wise in the village and with the travel and the games. So that’s been what my heart’s been set on, just that moment and having that opportunity.

Esme Morgan Signs With Washington Spirit

Esme Morgan of England inspects the pitch prior to the UEFA Women's EURO 2025 qualifying match between England and France
The England national will join the Spirit in DC on July 15th. (Naomi Baker - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

English defender Esme Morgan has signed with the Washington Spirit, the club announced Thursday. 

Morgan had been with WSL side Manchester City since 2017, with one year remaining on her contract. She’ll now make a move to the NWSL, with City receiving a fee for the move. 

"I wanted to join the Spirit because they have the ambition and tools to be the best team in the NWSL, and trying to achieve that will be a great but enjoyable challenge," Morgan said in a club statement.

"On an individual level too, the opportunity to work under Jonatan [Giráldez], one of the world's best coaches, is really exciting and I look forward to learning from him and pushing myself to become the best player I can be, hopefully helping the team to success."

According to ESPN, Morgan’s lack of playing time under City manager Gareth Taylor played a key role in her decision to leave the league championship runners-up. She’ll join the Spirit in Washington, DC on July 15th, but won’t be able to begin play until August. 

Spirit president Mark Krikorian called Morgan an "exceptional talent" and added that the club is "thrilled" to add her to the roster.

"I think she’s pretty talented," Giraldez told reporters on Friday. "A young player with a great future, but with experience already in a great league and with the national team. She’s been surrounded by great players and also great coaches, so she can give us experience."

Ledecky Goes for 4 at Olympic Swimming Trials

Swimmer katie ledecky swimming at Toyota US Open
Decorated swimmer Katie Ledecky is aiming to make her fourth-straight Olympic squad. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Swimming Trials begin this weekend, running from June 15th through June 23rd in Indianapolis, with Katie Ledecky eyeing her fourth-straight Summer Games.

While traditionally held in Omaha, Indiana's Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, has been fitted with a 50-meter pool to host the meet that will determine the 2024 Paris Olympics roster.

All eyes will be on seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who will be competing in the 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, and 1500-meter freestyle — all events in which she’s been an Olympic champion. 

Rival Ariarne Titmus had her trials last week, breaking the world record in the 200-meter freestyle. Ledecky’s 200 is intended to qualify her for the Olympic relay. Meanwhile stateside, Katie Grimes stands to be a challenger in the 1500-meter freestyle has already qualified for the Paris Olympics in the 10km open water event.

Other competitors of note include 47-year-old Gabrielle Rose, who stands to become the oldest US Swimming Olympic qualifier in the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Additionally, Kate Douglass — an NCAA and World Champion — is a favorite to make her first Olympic team in the 200-meter IM and 200-meter breaststroke. Simone Manuel, an Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, is also looking to make her third-straight Olympics.

Where to watch: The Trials will be streaming all week on Peacock, with later qualifying heats airing live on USA Network and event finals airing in primetime on NBC.

Orlando and Kansas City Shoot for 13 in NWSL Weekend Action

NWSL's T. Chawinga #6 of the Kansas City Current passes the ball during the first half of their game against the Utah Royals FC
The Kansas City Current hopes to extend its NWSL unbeaten streak to 13 with a win over Chicago. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

The 13th match weekend is fast approaching in the NWSL, with two season-long unbeaten streaks on the line.

League-leaders Kansas City and Orlando will attempt to survive the weekend with their unbeaten runs intact, as the Current host Chicago on Friday and the Pride travel to North Carolina for Saturday's match.

But while Kansas City and Orlando have been the gold standard this year, they're still a number of wins away from tying Washington's record for longest unbeaten streak in a single NWSL season. In 2021, the Spirit went 20 games without a loss en route to the club's first NWSL championship.

Both Gotham and Louisville are carrying momentum into their matchup on Saturday. Louisville is unbeaten in three games, and they’re looking to finally leapfrog Chicago and claim sixth place in the league standings. Gotham, on a seven-game unbeaten run, is into fifth place.

Portland and Seattle will face off in the Cascadia Clash this weekend, with Golden Boot contender Sophia Smith absent, as the decorated forward was shown a red card last weekend for time-wasting on the bench.

The Reign could use a win against their long-time rivals, as a difficult start has 13th-place Seattle registering only two wins amid nine losses so far this season.

Elsewhere in the league, 2024 expansion teams Bay FC and Utah meet for the first time this weekend, as both look to rise from the bottom half of the standings. And Washington will ride a four-game winning streak into Saturday's game against a San Diego side that's earned two hard-fought draws in recent weeks.

Watch more: "Sophia Smith is INNOCENT!" on The Late Sub with Claire Watkins

WNBA All-Star Voting Starts on June 13th

Phoenix Mercury mascot Scorch waving a 2024 WNBA All-Star flag at a 2023 home game.
Phoenix Mercury will host the 20th-annual All-Star Game on July 20th, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Voting for the 2024 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game opened at 2 PM ET today and runs through June 29th.

All active WNBA players are eligible to make the All-Star Game, set for July 20th in Phoenix. Unlike previous formats that featured two voted-in All-Star squads, this year’s contest pits a single All-Star team against the already-decided Olympic-bound USA Women’s National Team.

Fans can submit a daily ballot nominating up to 10 athletes via WNBA.com or the WNBA App.

Fan-submitted ballots account for 50% of vote, with the other 50% split equally between current WNBA players and members of the media. The top 10 athletes will automatically make the All-Star Game, with league coaches then voting from a pool of the next 36 to complete Team WNBA’s 12-player roster. The final lineup will be announced on July 2nd.

This year's All-Star Game format presents an opportunity for fans to vote for players they might consider Olympic snubs. Indiana rookie Caitlin Clark and Dallas’s Arike Ogunbawole seem like shoo-ins given the discussion surrounding their Olympic omissions, while Connecticut stars Brionna Jones and DeWanna Bonner are also expected to snag All-Star nods.

And after a career-high 20-point, 10-rebound double-double in last night’s 83-75 loss to the Sun, Chicago rookie Angel Reese could also secure a spot.

Regardless, it won't necessarily be smooth sailing for Team USA, as history has tended to favor the underdog. 

The first USA vs. All-Stars matchup took place in 2021, with the league’s squad humbling the Tokyo Olympians 93-85. With 26 points, Ogunbawole was named All-Star Game MVP after barely missing the Olympic cut. Could she and Clark turn the tables on Team USA this year?

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" by Expert Adjacent

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