The young people have a way with the 800 meters. Every few years a teenage phenom showcases her talent in the event and bursts onto the national and international scene. At the 2021 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials, it’s Athing Mu.
Mu, 19, announced at the beginning of the Trials that she accepted a multi-year professional contract with Nike and although she’ll remain based at Texas A&M, she’ll no longer compete in the NCAA. In her single collegiate season, she set six NCAA records and captured three championship titles.
Mu is also the fastest American this year in the 400 meters (49.57) and 800 meters (1:57.73). She glided through the qualifying rounds at the Trials in the 800 meters and is the top seed (1:59.31) in the final, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Pacific on Sunday. Her semifinal round was likely the most competitive race she’s experienced all season. She called the outcome “reassuring.”
“April was the last time I got to see how my gears work in a race,” Mu said. “Being able to do it in the semi makes me feel much better about being able to do it in the final…knowing it is one thing, but feeling it and doing it is another.”
Ajee’ Wilson, 27, the American record holder (1:55.61), followed a similar path as Mu to the top of the sport and the 800 meters, in particular. After high school graduation, she also went pro while taking classes at Temple University, in order to train for the 2013 world championships (she made the team and placed sixth). At the 2019 world championships Wilson won bronze, while Raevyn Rogers, 24, also competing on Sunday at the Trials, took silver.
After the semifinal round, in which Wilson won her heat in 1:59.49, she indicated that her training for the Trials hasn’t gone smoothly, declining to elaborate on whether she dealt with an injury or had any health issues. She hasn’t raced as much as she wanted prior to the Trials but is satisfied with how her rounds in Eugene have felt—her season best was in February, 1:58.93.
“I’m definitely not where I’d want to be, but I think in the last six weeks we’ve gotten some good work in,” Wilson said on Friday. “I’m super excited to hopefully make it through to the Olympic team and have those last few weeks [before Tokyo] to kind of get where I know that I need to be.”
Rogers, who posted a season best in the semifinal (1:59.66), described her own buildup to the Trials as “an uphill,” experiencing some mental challenges that she said have been helped by her faith and prayer. She left Wilson’s training group in Philadelphia to join the Nike-based group coached by Pete Julian in Portland, Oregon. Rogers is a legendary graduate of the University of Oregon—so much so that her image is portrayed on the giant Hayward Field tower.
“I’ve been working on nothing but positivity and taking the most out of each race and applying it to the next day,” Rogers said.
Kate Grace, 32, a 2016 Olympian and the defending 800-meters Trials champion, comes into the final as the second seed, finishing the semi in 1:59.43. Grace has also shaken up her training environment, leaving the Bowerman Track Club this year to join the Joe Bosshard-coached group in Boulder, Colorado. Two of her training partners have already secured their places on Team USA: Emma Coburn won the 3,000-meter steeplechase and Cory McGee placed second in the 1500 meters.
“It’s fun for me because I feel like I’m coming around in kind of like a rebirth phase, so it’s cool for me being in that phase of my life,” Grace said, “and then also seeing kids just coming up and doing so great.”
In all, six of the nine women who will compete in the final on Sunday have the Olympic standard (1:59.50), including Chanelle Price and Hanna Green. Most agree that it will take a sub-1:59 race to make the top three and earn a trip to the Tokyo Games. The heat will be a factor, with temperatures forecasted to reach 111 degrees on Sunday.
The race is scheduled for live broadcast on NBC.
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Editor’s Note: This story is part of our 2021 U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials coverage. You can find all of our stories here.