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Athing Mu arrived at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials having just completed her first year of NCAA competition for Texas A&M, blazing a trail of new records along the way. She’s leaving Eugene, Oregon, a first-time Olympian, the U.S. champion in the 800 meters, and a professional athlete with a multi-year Nike sponsorship.
During the final night of competition on Sunday at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Mu was the picture of a pro. She executed her 800-meter race just as she had envisioned, except for a little bit of a trip in the first 200 meters when another athlete clipped her from behind. Otherwise the 19-year-old went through 400 meters as planned, in 57.53, went to the front, and left her best for last, blasting away with 100 meters to go. She finished first in 1:56.07, an Olympic Trials record, a world-leading time this season, and her personal best at the distance.
Raevyn Rogers, 24, was second in 1:57.66, also a personal record. And Ajee’ Wilson, 27, was third in 1:58.39. The trio will represent the U.S. in the 800 meters at the Tokyo Games later this summer.
In her single collegiate season, Mu set six NCAA records and captured three championship titles. She is also the fastest American this year in the 400 meters (49.57). When Mu discovered that the former Trials record was 25 years old, she was thrilled to have set the new standard.
“Honestly, I wanted to break some record,” Mu said. “PRing was already great, but 25 years is a really long time. That’s a really long time. It feels awesome. I knew it was within me, but it’s just great to have my name written down next to it for the next U.S. Trials to come.”
The final went off after a five-hour delay, due to excessive heat that took hold in the Pacific Northwest. After temperatures hit 111 degrees in Eugene and a heptathlete suffered heat-related illness, U.S.A. Track & Field announced that competition had been suspended. By the time races resumed at Hayward Field at 8:30 p.m. Pacific, it was 99 degrees on the track, but at least the sun wasn’t beating down on the oval anymore.
Rogers, who is the 2019 world championships silver medalist in the 800 meters, 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 enshrined on the giant Hayward Field tower. Hayward feels like home and becoming a first-time Olympian there was special.
“This is something I’ve worked extremely hard for. I still can’t believe that it’s actually like a thing now. Like, I’m actually an Olympian,” Rogers said. “Going into things, I just try to hope for the best. For this to come true is unbelievable. It’s so incredible.”
With about 150 meters to go, Wilson found herself in territory she isn’t accustomed to—she sat in fifth place and her positioning looked bleak to pull out third place for her second shot at the Olympics. But the American record-holder (1:55.61) found a way around the group on the homestretch and was able to surge one last time to the line.
“I really had to dig deep for this race. I’m definitely not used to being in that position coming off that last turn,” Wilson said. “It was very much, find a way to get it done; find a way to measure my efforts. I’m glad that I was able to get it right.”
Wilson had indicated that her buildup to the Trials didn’t go according to plan and that she only got about six weeks of consistent training in before lining up for the 800-meter preliminary round. She said that she’s healthy and encouraged by her performance on Sunday, but declined to give any specifics about why her preparation had been disrupted.
“I feel like I was super emotional after the race because it’s been..I feel like we’ve all had a crazy year, but [it was] unusually crazy for me,” Wilson said. “I’m just glad I was able to make this team. Super thankful, super relieved.”