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Olympics

Athing Mu, a 19-year-old sensation, set the American record and won the 800-meter gold — and she’s not done yet

Athing Mu (pronounced Uh-Thing Moe) was born to South Sudanese parents in Trenton. She's already one of the country's most accomplished middle-distance runners, and she's still in her teens.
Athing Mu (pronounced Uh-Thing Moe) was born to South Sudanese parents in Trenton. She's already one of the country's most accomplished middle-distance runners, and she's still in her teens.Petr David Josek/Associated Press

Five-foot-10 Athing Mu lengthened her already enormous stride to pull away from the rest of the field in an American record time of 1:55.21 to win Olympic gold in the 800 meters on Tuesday.

She finished ahead of Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson (1:55.88), and American teammate Raevyn Rogers, who won bronze with a 1:56.81.

Mu is the first American woman to win gold in the event since Madeline Manning did it at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

“At the end of the day, I don’t want to leave anything up to chance,” Mu said of her strategy in the race to the Washington Post. “I don’t want to get into a race and get mixed in there and mess up my chances of reaching any of my goals. If I want to win a gold medal, I’m not going to leave it up to anyone else to decide my race.”

Mu, 19, had already cemented herself as one of the best middle-distance runners. But, as Rogers put it: “Athing just really made an intentioned announcement to the world.”

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At 16, as a junior at Trenton Central High School in New Jersey, Mu broke the American record in the 600 meters, running 1:23.57 at the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships.

Athing Mu competes in the final of the women's 800 meters.
Athing Mu competes in the final of the women's 800 meters.Francisco Seco/Associated Press

Following a dominant high school career, Mu headed to Texas A&M in the fall of 2020, where she became one of the best collegiate runners ever in just a season. She broke six collegiate records, including the indoor 600m, indoor 800m, indoor 4×400m relay, outdoor 400m, outdoor 800m, and outdoor 4×400m relay.

800-meter runners do not typically dominate shorter distances like the 400. Mu’s versatility makes her one of the greats — all before turning 20 years old.

She has the fastest 400m time in the United States (and fourth best in the world) despite not running the race since she won the NCAA championship in June. Mu’s 4x400 split at NCAA championships — 48.85 — was the fastest in collegiate history and the first under 49 seconds.

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Because of her dominance in the 400m, her Olympics probably are not over.

Mu will likely be a part of the Americans 4x400 relay. The United States has won six straight gold medals in the event, and she could help make it seven.

Mu is the second-youngest of seven children born to South Sudanese parents who moved to Trenton more than two decades ago. She was the first of her siblings to be born in the United States.

When some of her family greeted her virtually at the finish line, they could hardly contain their excitement.

“Wow, where is the enthusiasm?” she joked.

Mu’s Sudanese name has been a challenge for announcers, and it’s been butchered time and time again. She noticeably winced when an announcer mispronounced it before her first-round race.

Her name — the correct pronunciation is Uh-Thing Moe — is one the world will have to get used to quickly, because she’ll be dominating the sport for years to come.

“My time is now,” Mu told the Washington Post. “That’s what they can take away from this event. Watching anything in the future, I’m going to maintain with that statement. My time is now. Six years from now. Two years from now. It’s going to be my time.”

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Kris Rhim can be reached at kris.rhim@globe.com.