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Is there anything Athing Mu can’t do?
In a virtual press call with top collegiate athletes ahead of the U.S. Olympic Trials in July, the Texas A&M freshman said she’d like to try the 400-meter hurdles one day, prompting a squeal from long jump champion Tara Davis —“I would pay money to see you do that!”
Mu assured reporters that it wouldn’t be anytime soon, but it was clear that the middle-distance talent was unlike any other athlete in NCAA history, which is a big reason why she decided to sign a pro contract with Nike as the Trials began.
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In one shiny season at the college level, she broke a total of six NCAA records (indoor 600 meters, indoor 800 meters, indoor 4×400-meter relay, outdoor 400 meters, outdoor 800 meters, outdoor 4×400-meter relay) and captured three NCAA Championship titles. After identifying her next-level talent early in the indoor season, Mu’s coaches at Texas A&M had her focus mostly on the 400 meters during NCAA competition before switching focus to the 800 meters for the Olympic Trials, which she won in a world-leading time of 1:56.07, and the Tokyo Games. She’s now a gold medal contender at just 19 years old.
Mu handles it all with the charm and megawatt smile of a seasoned veteran—which, in some ways, she is. She set her first American record when she was only 16 years old, and she dominated the AAU Junior Olympic circuit for years before that. As she says, she was “made for this.”
The 800-meter first round is schedule for 9:25 p.m. Eastern on July 29; the semi-final is 7:50 a.m. Eastern on July 31; and the final is 8:25 a.m. Eastern on August 3.
Hometown: Trenton, New Jersey
Event/PR: 800 meters (1:56.07)
On maintaining composure in a race when it starts to hurt: “I’ve watched a couple of our races and I can say I look pretty smooth, but during the race—depending what race it is—you definitely feel it, especially if it’s one of my best efforts. This 49.5 [collegiate record for 400 meters], that was a pretty smooth race. I felt good through the whole thing, but my legs definitely felt it towards the end. I just like to keep my composure and try to get through the line, because if you mess up your form or you try rushing to get to the line… if you don’t let the line come to you, everything’s just gonna fall apart, so I like to keep my composure and just run through the line.”
On what it means to make the Olympic team: “Every time somebody’s asked me, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I always said, ‘I want to be a professional athlete, I want to be an Olympian.’ Those are the two things I always said…At the same time, this is exactly where I’m supposed to be and I’ve worked for this, I’m ready to compete.”
What she learned during her year of NCAA competition: “Never count yourself out and to also never count yourself in. Collegiate track and field has been… I wouldn’t say it’s been the easiest thing, it’s definitely challenging and I think when you get to certain meets, you tend to think about the people you’re competing with, if it’s NCAAs or SECs. But whenever you’re in that moment, just remember who you are and never to count yourself in or out because anything can happen. You just have to do what you have to do to your best capabilities and the results will fall into place.”
Why she decided not to double in the 400/800 at the Olympic Trials: “I never considered doubling. It would have been fun to do, but being smart about training and where I’m at—I had a long collegiate season. Six rounds at the Olympic Trials, at the fastest Olympic Trials ever in the country… It would be a lot of work and my legs… it would be a little draining for me. The end goal is to make the team and to be able to compete at the actual Games, so focus on one event at least for right now.”
How her faith guides her on the track: “The only thing I can do is thank God because without him, I wouldn’t be able to do anything I’ve done this season. I think he’s really awakened me with one thing, especially, that’s confidence. That’s one thing I’ve really gained this year as a collegiate athlete, having confidence in all I do because I do have the capability, I was made for this.
“It’s really been a special year. I didn’t expect this all to happen. I came to college with no expectations. I was hoping to improve, maybe, and if not, it’d be fine because I have a couple years of college left, so it’s pretty special.”
Editor’s Note: This article was originally part of a series leading up to the 2021 U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials, highlighting many of the top athletes contending for the U.S. Olympic team. You can find all of our coverage here. It has been updated and edited for the 2021 Tokyo Games.