TOKYO — Wearing a red "CONFIDENT" barrette she bought at a California Nordstrom just before heading to Japan for the Olympics and specifically for the occasion, 19-year-old New Jersey native Athing Mu won gold in the women's 800 meters on Tuesday night.
Her time of 1 minute, 55.21 seconds is now the U.S. record and fifth-best in Olympic history. Great Britain's Keely Hodgkinson won silver with a British record of 1:55.88, while American Raevyn Rogers closed strong to earn bronze in 1:56.81.
Mu led wire-to-wire to become only the second American woman to win the event, following Madeline Manning in 1968.
The young phenom has grace and charm in spades, and if she's overwhelmed by the stage or the stakes of being in an Olympics while still a teenager, she certainly doesn't show it.
"I came in very relaxed, my mind was very chill I wasn't nervous or anything I was just ready to go, ready to do what I had to do to get on that medal stand," Mu said.
While being on the Olympic stage was new, Mu has a lot of high-level experience for someone so young. She's been running on junior national and senior national teams for years, and won a U.S. championship in the indoor 600m as a 16-year-old, setting an American record in the process. During her one season at Texas A&M she broke more records, including the under-20 world record in the 800, and won three NCAA titles.
She feels that experience has helped her in Tokyo.
Rogers, who came in having won silver at the 2019 World Championships, was nonetheless in tears at her bronze achievement and thinking of her mother Rhonda Hunt, back home in Houston. It's Hunt's birthday, and her daughter will be bringing her a shiny gift.
And she worked for it. With about 75 meters to go, Rogers was in seventh place, but she stormed down the straightaway in lane 4 to edge out Great Britain's Jemma Reekie for third.
"The last 100 I just needed to give it all I had and there was a split second in the race where it's like, you should like try to go cuz you can get a medal," Rogers said. "This split second I was like, 'Oh shoot like I should really, you know, go for this.' I mean we are running, at least for me, the pressure of the Olympics was similar to World Championships.
"And so, that felt like the Olympics, the glory of it is kind of what everyone else is able to admire and appreciate I'm just doing the work that I need to do. But now being able to match everyone and really be like you know wow, like I'm an Olympic medalist bronze medalist, you know, to be that top in the world is a big deal."
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It's been clear for a while that Mu is the future of American middle-distance running — though Rogers, at 24, is still young herself — and Rogers is wowed by how her teammate has handled it all.
"I feel like she led American middle distance gracefully this year, even just her collegiate season. She just had an amazing year," Rogers said. "Madeline Manning Mims, Athing told me, 'I know Madeline's proud of us' which is true because Madeline paved the way."
Mu wore the barrette, but outwardly she doesn't lack confidence at all. Asked if she'd ever go for the 800m-400m double at the Olympics, she showed once again that she knows her sport's history.
"Most definitely. I think we were talking about earlier in the year, my coach and I, running the four-eight double, most definitely we're gonna put my name on the list of the two people that have accomplished that, because I want to do it," she said.
Cuba's Alberto Juantorena is currently the only person to win gold in both events, which he did at the 1976 Games.
And that's not all Mu wants.
"I'm also gonna break the 800 world record, eventually," she said. "Not even eventually. We're gonna break it at some ... we're gonna break it."
The world record is 1:53.28, set by Jarmila Kratchilova of Czechoslovakia in 1983.
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