16-Year-Old Athing Mu Has Ribbons in Her Hair, Braces in Her Mouth…and an American Record on the Track
Learn about the high schooler who shocked the world at Toyota USA Indoors.
February 25, 2019
Ignoring her nearly 6-foot frame, at first glance, Athing Mu is your typical 16-year-old.
She’s got braces. She wears colored ribbons in her hair. She loves pugs. She loves to laugh and have fun.
When Mu says her favorite subject is biology, one might start to think she’s not your typical high schooler.
But when she steps on the track it becomes clear Mu is not your average high schooler because she is very, very fast.
According to Track & Field News, prior to last weekend’s Toyota USATF Indoor Championships, Mu was not only this year’s high school leader indoors at 400, 600, 800, and 1000 meters, but she was the 5th-fastest high schooler ever indoors at 400, the 2nd-fastest ever at 600, 4th-fastest ever at 800, and 3rd-fastest ever at 1000.
Now after her stunning performance at USA Indoors, where she ran 1:23.57 to win the USA title, she is not only the high school record holder and national champion, but also the US senior indoor record holder and the second fastest woman of all-time at 600m.
When told by LRC that she came within .13 of the world record at 600, Mu’s reaction and words reminded everyone she is just a high schooler.
We recommend you watch her reaction in the video below (We have it set to start at the 2:36 mark):
“Seriously?” she said, throwing her head back in disbelief. “Oh my god! Yeah, that’s even more crazy. Woaaah. That’s like a lean. Ok yeah. That’s crazy. That’s crazy.”
Two days later, it remains utterly unfathomable a high schooler — a high school junior, in fact — nearly set a world record.
Mu has charted her own path to the top
Athing Mu’s (pronounced uh·thing Mo) path to the top of the US
high school ranks is far from typical as she has never run for her high school, Trenton Central in New Jersey. Instead, she competes for the Trenton Track Club.
Mu is the second-youngest of seven siblings, and her siblings started the competitive running tradition in her family. According to a Trentonian profile last year, her older sisters ran in high school and three of her brothers raced in high school and the collegiate level. Her older brother Malual ran 1:51 in high school last year and is now a freshman at Penn State.
Mu first hung out at Trenton Track Club practices watching her brothers and soon she started running herself.
Trenton Track Club assistant coach Bernice Mitchell first saw Mu run at the age of six. Mu joined the club, which has been around since 1973, and has never left. Head coach Al Jennings has been guiding her amazing career for the last decade and things have reached a new stratosphere this year.
While Mu did win the 800 at the New Balance indoor (2:06.59) and outdoor (2:04.51) high school nationals last year, most of her accolades prior to this year came at AAU summer meets. The focus of the Trenton Track Club is the summer meets, since most of the kids in the club do compete for their high schools.
Last year at the AAU Junior Olympics, Mu, competing in the 15-16-year-old age group, won the 400 (52.83), 800 (2:07.54), and 1500 (4:38.78) and came within .06 of winning the 200m (24.07 for Mu) as well. Then in October, she earned the silver medal for the US in the 800 at the Youth Olympics in Argentina, clocking 2:05.23.
Indoors this year, Mu started climbing the all-time national high school lists before obliterating everything at USA Indoors.
Even prior to USA Indoors, Mu’s fast times this year were surprising her long-time coach Jennings. He told Rich Sands of Track & Field News, “I was thinking next year she would do this. And she’s just blossomed. And we haven’t really done a whole lot of hard stuff in training yet.”
Mu’s performances at USAs were simply astounding. She said her goals coming in were to get the national record (1:27.13 by Sammy Watson) and go under 1:27.
Mu did that in the prelims by running 1:26.23, nearly a full second faster than any other high schooler before her.
But then in the finals, Mu somehow knocked another 2.66 seconds off her time from the day before, clocking 1:23.57. Prior to USAs, Mu was already the second-fastest high schooler ever at 600m, and yet she somehow dropped almost four seconds from her 1:27.36 PR heading in.
Mu was shocked by the time, coach Jennings was shocked by the time (he thought it would take 1:25 or 1:24.9 to win the race; runner-up Raevyn Rogers ran 1:24.88), but one person who wasn’t shocked by the time was the woman who first saw Mu running as a six-year-old, assistant coach Bernice Mitchell.
“I’ve been telling her she’s been amazing since she was six and people were telling me I was crazy,” Mitchell said
1:23.57 by a high schooler is crazy.
The question now turns to what Mu can run for 800m at this year’s New Balance Nationals Indoor in a week and a half at the Armory. Converting a 600 to 800 is a very inexact science. Mu herself was in total shock from running 1:23 and said, “1:23, I’m pretty sure that’s like a 1:53 [for 800] conversion so that’s really crazy.”
We feel confident that a 1:23 for 600 does not convert to 1:53.
We didn’t ask Mitchell, but we doubt anyone besides maybe her thinks Mu will run 1:57.00 for 800 next time out. Jennings himself thought this meant Mu could run 2:01 for 800. The high school indoor record is Sammy Watson’s 2:01.78.
One thing that is clear is that there isn’t much reason for Mu to race high schoolers much in the future. She’s not on a high school team and no one in the high school ranks can challenge her. Heck, most collegians would have trouble challenging her; Rogers won five straight NCAA 800 titles (indoor/outdoor) at Oregon before turning pro in 2017 and Mu dusted her at USAs. For Mu to be challenged, she’s going to have to start racing pros or open athletes regularly.
Mu appears up for the challenge. Poised beyond her years when interacting with the media, she still maintains a youthful exuberance and seems to genuinely enjoy what she is doing. Mu and her coaches were at the USATF press conference on Thursday, but not part of the official press conference. Mu poised for photos in front of the Toyota USATF Indoors backdrop, just having fun and soaking in the experience of being at senior nationals for the first time.
Her coaches speak very highly of not only her talent but her coachability. Mitchell said Mu is very coachable and a “sweet spirit.” Jennings said “she follows a race plan to the T.” Mu herself seems to have great perspective saying after her first race at USA Indoors where she broke the high school record, “I know at the end of the day, I’m running for fun and no matter how the race goes it’s always a good race.”
Then when asked what she learned from racing the pros she replied, “I’m just as fast as they are.”
Sunday she showed she’s actually faster than they are.
You can follow Athing Mu on twitter here.
Interviews with Mu and her coaches below.
Mu after her American Record
Mu after her high school record in round 1
Beatrice Mitchell and Al Jennings