Athing Mu leads US track and field into new era

Throughout a season in which Texas A&M freshman Athing Mu has shattered record after record, there’s always been of sense that the world has only seen a sliver of what the teenager is truly capable.

U.S. track and field arrives at the second half of the Olympic Trials on Thursday at a dividing line in American middle distance running history – before Mu and after Mu.

“She’s on another level,” said Donavan Brazier, the American record-holder at 800 meters.

With Thursday’s first-round heats in the women’s 800, the nation will be formally introduced to a 19-year-old who has had the track world buzzing since January.

“She wants to be the best ever that stepped on the track,” Texas A&M head coach Pat Henry told reporters earlier this year. “Watching her, you can see this kid has things not many can do.”

Henry is not alone. Mu turned pro this week and Nike is expected to make her the highest-paid female athlete in the sport.

“That’s something I have had in my eyes since I was a kid,” she said.

Her last name is pronounced “Mo” – as in momentum – and for the past six months she has rolled over one record after another, seemingly gaining speed and raising expectations with each race.

“I’m trying to keep that momentum going from all I’ve done since January,” Mu said of a season in which much of her résumé can be found in the U.S. and collegiate record books.

She knocked more than two seconds off the collegiate 800 indoor record at the SEC Championships in February with a 1-minute, 58.40 second clocking that just missed Ajee Wilson’s U.S. record of 1:58.29.

Mu enters the Trials with the fastest outdoor mark by an American in 2021 by more than a second, a 1:57.73 clocking in an April meet in Waco and in conditions so poor that Henry pulled some A&M athletes from their events.

“She ran a faster second 400 (meters), and that doesn’t happen very often,” Henry said. “That tells you there is a bit more in the tank. From a pure performance, I have not seen that kind of performance in all of my years from a time and weather standpoint.”

So the question is: How much more is in Mu?

Could Wilson’s American record of 1:55.61 fall this week, even with temperatures at Hayward Field expected reach into triple digits?

What about the long considered untouchable world record of 1:53.28, set by Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvilova in 1983, in an era of state-sponsored doping by Eastern bloc countries and almost nonexistent drug testing?

“She’s the best that has ever been,” Henry said.

Mu’s already had a busy month in Tracktown USA.

Skipping the 800 at the NCAA Championships in Eugene earlier this month, Mu won the 400, breaking her own collegiate record with a 49.57 mark, and then came back to clock a 48.85 split in the 4×400 relay. She was so far ahead in the 400, the rest of the field wasn’t even visible on ESPN’s broadcast when she crossed the finish line.

She capped the season with three of the five fastest collegiate outdoor 400s of all-time. Her NCAA time is the fastest by an American in 2021 and was nearly a half-second faster than Wadeline Jonathas’ winning time in the Trials 400 final Sunday (50.02).

Mu’s family is South Sudanese and fled to New Jersey from Sudan’s civil war in 2001. A year later, Mu was born, the second youngest of seven children. Like her siblings before her, she joined a track club as a pre-schooler.

“It was my turn,” she said.

By her junior year, she was among the best in the world. Not just for her age but for any age. Period.

Mu, then 16, won the 2019 U.S. Indoor 600 title in an American record 1:23.57, the world’s second-fastest mark ever.

After the pandemic wiped out 2020, Mu picked right up with her record-breaking ways, adding the collegiate indoor 600 standard to her record collection in only her second college race.

And now Mu is seemingly on the brink of so much more, a lucrative shoe deal and Olympic Games that will help her transcend the sport; a once-in-a-generation talent about to cross over a dividing line that will frame a golden age.

“I was kind of made for this,” she said.


When: Thursday

Where: Hayward Field, Eugene, Oregon.

Finals: Women’s shot put, Women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase.

TV: 5 p.m. NBCSN

What to watch for: How runners in the men’s 1,500- and 5,000-meter heats and the women’s steeplechase final handle temperatures expected to hit 100 degrees.

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