American Record Holder Athing Mu Gets Beat By High School Freshman Roisin Willis, Who Sets National Freshman Record for 800

March 10, 2019

NEW YORK — Two weeks after running faster than any American ever at 600m indoors, 16-year-old sensation Athing Mu got beat by a high school freshman at 800m.

Yes, you read that correctly.

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Willis and Mu battle to the line [the finish tape is at 880-yard finish]

High school freshman Roisin Willis made up a huge gap the final 200m to pass Mu before the line and get the win in 2:05.70, which broke the previous high school freshman record of 2:06.48. Mu was second in 2:05.86 ahead of another freshman, Bailey Goggans, who was 3rd in 2:06.10, faster than the previous freshman record a well.

The race at the Armory was set up as a coronation for Athing Mu. The organizers of the New Balance Nationals even decided to set up an extra timing device after the finish at 880 yards to capture the moment when Mu would break Mary Slaney‘s long-standing 880-yard record of 2:02.4 (which was a world record when Slaney ran it). Many expected Mu would try to become the first high schooler to go sub-2:00 for 800 indoors.

That is exactly what Mu did when the gone went off. She immediately seized the lead and went through 200m in 28.5, a half second (3-4 meters) ahead of Willis. Mu would slow the next 200 (30.9 for 59.5), but her lead would only grow as now she was a full second ahead of Willis.

Willis and Mu before start

Mu’s shot at going sub-2 really disappeared on the next lap, however, as she slowed to a 32.6 (1:32.1), but her lead on the rest of the field grew even more as the rest of the field slowed even more. Mu led by 1.77 seconds at the bell and had a gap of 10 meters (35 feet) on Willis.

Mu, however, had no kick over the final 200m as she tied up and ran her slowest lap of the race (33.7) and that gave Willis the opportunity she needed. Mu still had a big gap until the final straight, when she slowed even more. Willis was kicking hard from behind to try to get second and sensed her opportunity. Willis’ 31.7 final lap was just enough to pass Mu before the finish and get her the national freshman record and the high school national title.

Watch the end of the race below:

(You can watch the full race here at 6:19:00 mark)

1 Roisin Willis Stevens Point, WI 2:05.70 PR
2 Athing Mu  Trenton, NJ 2:05.86
3. Bailey Goggans  Meadowlakes, TX 2:06.10 PR
4 Victoria Vanriele  Berkeley Heights, NJ 2:07.24 SR
5 Maggie Hock  Avon, CT 2:07.68 PR
6 Aleeya Hutchins   Ajax, ON 2:08.52 PR
7 Lily Flynn  New Rochelle, NY 2:09.10
8 Gia Napoleon  Worthington, OH 2:12.36

Afterwards Athing Mu made no excuses and wasn’t upset with the loss. She was still the smiling high schooler who broke the American record two weeks ago. She said she didn’t feel 100% today, noting her legs felt a little heavy warming up, but had a good sense of perspective, “I ran a super great season. I’m super happy with how I did. I PR’d [running] 2:03 and I’m still a junior so I still have one whole year to do whatever I can. I’m very happy.” She also praised Willis: “Kudos to her.”

Mu had fans with banners in the stands

Mu’s coach Al Jennings said it was one of the few times he’s seen Mu run where she didn’t have “pop” in her legs. He said the plan was for her to go out in 28 point, which she did, but usually she is more aggressive than he wants so he expected her maybe to come through in 27. Things got worse from there. “She just looked like she was off,” he said.

“You’ve got to understand how to lose cause you’re not going to win all the time,” he said, noting she handled this, what he called her first loss in a few years at 800 (he must have meant to US high schoolers as Mu was beaten at 800 last year at the Youth Olympics), much better than the last time when she was in tears.

Jennings said Mu has had some increased media interest over the last two weeks (a local radio and local TV appearance, plus the BBC called her, and the NY Times was here today to do a story on her), but he said her training has gone great. In retrospect, he wondered if he should have done a little more endurance training with her as the season went on, noting she had a lot of strength at the start of the season from doing cross country in the fall.

The plan is for Mu to go to college rather than go pro. Jennings said, “She wants to go to school right now. She wants to have fun,” noting she’s looking at schools such as Texas A&M, Oregon, LSU, and Florida. As for turning pro, he said, “If that [opportunity] comes, that will take care of itself.” He was still full of smiles himself and noted every once in a while even the great athletes are going to have one of those bad days, and you hope it’s just not on a day like today.

Willis Gets The Freshman Record

As for the champion Willis, her goal coming in was to try to get a PR. She left with the national title and freshman record. “It’s such an honor and I’m really excited about it,” she said.

Talk about the race on our world famous fan forum / messageboard. MB: FRESHMAN TAKES DOWN ATHING MU – Wins 800 at New Balance Nationals.

Mu’s shoes