It was the showdown every New Jersey track and field fan was anxious to see, and the prime figures in the race gave the standing-room-only crowd everything it could have asked for.
Chris Faytok/The Star-Ledger
Olivia Baker, right, of Columbia pulls away from Neptune's Ajee' Wilson down the srtetch to win the girls 400-meter run at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions on Monday in Old Bridge.
When Neptune All-America and 800-meter state record-holder Ajee’ Wilson decided to change her plans for the NJSIAA Meet of Champions and try her hand at the 400 meters, it meant that Columbia sophomore Olivia Baker, the M of C defending champion in the event, was about to embark on the toughest test of her still-young career.
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It is more than fair to say Baker, two years Wilson’s junior, did not flinch at the challenge.
The state’s two biggest track stars roared down the final straightaway nearly side by side, as was expected. It was quarter-mile specialist Baker who had more over the final few strides, beating Wilson by .56 seconds in a personal-best 53.48 on Monday at Lombardi Field in Old Bridge.
``This race will change me forever,’’ said Baker, whose time is No. 2 in meet history and No. 4 in state history. ``This is what I needed to take the next step. This race was my breakthrough, and I needed Ajee’s help to do it. I am very grateful to her. I had to beat the best.’’
TRACK: Baker Wins Girls 400m Dash
Olivia Baker of Columbia wins the girls 400m dash final (53.48) at the 2012 NJSIAA Outdoor Track & Field State Championships at Lombardi Field in Old Bridge Monday afternoon. Video by Mike Roy / The Star-Ledger
Wilson – who crossed second in a personal-best 54.04, No. 4 in meet history -- originally planned to race the 800 when the M of C was slated for Thursday, but a rainstorm pushed the meet back to Friday, and then to yesterday. In the meantime, Wilson competed in the adidas Grand Prix on Saturday and ran a 2:02.61 in the 800, thereby shaving .03 seconds off her own state record.
That exceptional performance prompted Wilson and her coach, Derek Thompson, to choose the quarter-mile over