Amy Weissenbach of the United States at the Lille Pre-Event Press Conference (Bob Ramsak) © Copyright
General News Lille, France

World youth 800m leader Weissenbach - ‘I don't know how much faster I can go’ – Lille 2011

Amy Weissenbach, the world leader at 800m, feels no real pressure that she will line up as favourite for the gold medal at the 7th IAAF World Youth Championships which take place in Lille (6-10 July).

Weissenbach insists she will step onto the almost brand new blue re-surfaced track at the renovated Lille Metropole Stadium fairly relaxed, and that she can progress through tomorrow's heat and Friday's semi-final to become the first-ever American to win a championship medal over the distance.

The 17-year-old raised eyebrows at the California state championships in Clovis on 4 June where she clocked 2:02.04, erasing the three-year-old girls' national best of 2:02.90 belonging to Chanelle Price.  

The performance, which also saw her become the quickest ever by an American Youth in succession to the legendary Mary Slaney who clocked 2:02.29 in July 1974, saw her massively reduced her 2010 best of 2:07.52 with a dazzling two circuits of the track.

In wet conditions, Weissenbach roared through a first lap of 57.5 seconds and running in a vacuum against the clock five seconds up on her nearest rivals, not surprisingly slowed down to what was still an outstanding performance.

"When I saw 57.5, it was definitely a surprise. I didn't expect that," Weissenbach told reporters at the Californian meet."The last 200, I started to tighten up a little, but I was able to do it. It's just unbelievable."

Now Weissenbach – whose name translates to "White Brook", a flowing stream in German- is aiming to prove the display was no fluke when stepping out against the best global opponents in her age group.

Also high on the list of gold medallist candidates is Ajee Wilson who beat her at the US Trials in Myrtle Beach last weekend and who distinguished herself at a more senior level when finishing fifth at last year's IAAF World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada.

There is also Great Britain's Jessica Judd who has the next four best performances on the world list and a fastest of 2:02.70 this summer. There are also two other sub-2:05 performers in the field: Sally Diago of Cuba and Christian Gess from Germany.

But Weissenbach, not travel weary and having visited Europe before on trips with her parents, believes she is perfectly prepared despite losing to teammate Wilson when only 0.13sec separated them in the head-to-head at the trials.  

"It was definitely a very tactical race," she said of the encounter. "Ajee and I were both in qualifying modes, we both knew we had strong kicks and the race went out incredibly slow, it was 67 first lap.”

"It was hot and we were focused on qualifying so we just waited. She went in the last 300m and I followed her and we kicked away. The second lap was a 62 so it was just a bizarre race. “

"I think we can both go a lot faster in the next few days," insisted Weissenbach, not considering the defeat a setback. "I'm kinda in a little whirlwind.  My time has dropped so quickly I'm only just beginning to figure out where I can go. I don't know how much faster I can go  - I'm just excited about the possibility."

"I do feel confident," said the 5feet 9inch teenager. "I'm so excited to be here and be able to run for the US. I think just the energy of being at this meet with other athletes from around the world will spur me on. I'm not sure I feel pressure, I'm just so excited to be able to compete."

Weissenbach added: "I didn't run really seriously or train until last year. It was my sophomore (second year of high school) year so it was the last year and last qualifier for our California section to go to (the state championships). They combine all the divisions of the sport.”

"I made it for the 800 and the mile and my coaches spent a long time trying to decide which event. Until then I hadn't really shown any great potential and my coaches (one being 1992 Olympic 400m gold medallist Quincy Watts) decided that I should go for the 800 and just try it out."

Weissenbach, should she make the grade and eventually move up in distance just as Slaney did to become one of the World's greatest ever distance runners, will pray that she doesn't fall in an Olympic final and even worse on home soil as happened to the latter when tripped by Zola Budd at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Along with other members of Team USA, Weissenbach celebrated Independence Day in Lille yesterday, an experience she found pleasant sitting alongside her new colleagues thousands of miles from home.

"We just had a nice dinner at the hotel, we kind of celebrated, we didn't have sparklers or that kind of thing. It was really nice fun to be staying with a bunch of other budding athletes.”

"It was a calm 4th of July but it was very nice," she added before turning her mind to the biggest competition of her life this week in Northern France.

David Martin for the IAAF