Athing Mu Runs 1:58.40 to Destroy NCAA & World U20 Records at 800 Meters

By Jonathan Gault
February 27, 2021

The magical freshman season of Texas A&M sensation Athing Mu hit a new high on Saturday evening as the 18-year-old clocked a stunning 1:58.40 at the SEC Indoor Track & Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., obliterating several records in the process.

Prior to tonight, no collegiate woman had run faster than 2:00.69 indoors (Jazmine Fray in 2017 for Texas A&M), but Mu went from 2:01.07 to 1:58.40 in a single race. She also took more than two seconds off the official world U20 record and 0.63 off Keely Hodgkinson‘s unratified 1:59.03 from earlier this year.

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The time was also faster than Raevyn Rogers’ overall collegiate record of 1:59.10, set outdoors in 2017. And it also ranks Mu #2 on the all-time US indoor list at 800 meters, just behind Ajee’ Wilson’s American record of 1:58.29 last year. Mu is also now the 2nd fastest American U20 – just behind the 1:58.21 that Wilson ran to get 5th at Worlds outdoors in Moscow in 2013.

Mu celebrates. Photo via @aggietfxc.

Mu made history by running a fearless race. With no pacemaker in the field, Mu went straight to the front, hitting 200 in 28.65, and coming through 400 in 57.96 — a remarkable split for an indoor race. Mu ran her third lap in 29.64 to hit 600 in 1:27.60, and though her final lap was by far her slowest — 30.81 — she held on for a stellar time.

This may have been the most impressive run of Mu’s young career, but it is far from the only one. Mu first made national headlines two years ago as a 16-year-old by defeating Rogers to win the 2019 US indoor 600m title, setting an American record of 1:23.57 in the process

After graduating high school in 2020, Mu headed off to Texas A&M — following the same path of fellow US phenom Donavan Brazier — and her first season in 2021 has seen Mu reel off a string of terrific performances. On January 23, she ran 1:25.80 to break the collegiate record at 600 meters. The following week, Mu ran one of the fastest 4x400m splits ever (50.03) to anchor her Texas A&M squad to the win at Texas Tech. And a week after that, Mu ran 50.52, which broke the world U20 record of 50.82 set by future Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross. (That’s assuming the record is ratified; Sydney McLaughlin actually ran faster as a U20 athlete — 50.36 — but McLaughlin’s time was never ratified as a WR).

Mu will compete next at the NCAA Indoor Championships, also in Fayetteville, from March 11-13. Whether she chooses to run the 400 or the 800, she will be the favorite.

Quick Take: Athing Mu will be a serious contender to make the US Olympic team in June — and perhaps more

Mu’s run is reminiscent of another breakthrough 800m effort: Donavan Brazier’s 1:43.55 collegiate record to win the 2016 NCAA outdoor title. Like Brazier, Mu was a freshman at Texas A&M. Like Brazier, it completely reset the bar for what was capable for a collegiate athlete. And like Brazier, it came in an Olympic year.

Brazier’s Olympic Trials experience did not go well. Initially, he had planned on skipping the Trials to focus on the World U20 championships, but his time was so fast that it pretty much demanded he turn pro and run the Trials. Overwhelmed in his first senior US championship, Brazier bombed out in the first round.

Expect Mu to fare better at this year’s Olympic Trials in June. For one, she’s already used to running against senior competition; she won that US indoor title in 2019 and finished 5th at USA outdoors that summer. For another, the Olympic Trials has always been part of the plan for Mu (which was not the case until the last minute for Brazier).

So how will Mu do in June? It’s a little early to project this far out. She certainly has a shot to make the team, but no country is better in the women’s 800 than the United States, which had three World Championships finalists in 2019 (Rogers in 2nd, Ajee’ Wilson in 3rd, and Ce’Aira Brown in 8th). Add in Hanna Green (1:58.19 pb, 2nd at USAs in ’19) and Mu faces a tough task to make it to Tokyo.

But Mu may not be done improving, either. And if she can make the team, she should be viewed as a legitimate medal contender in Tokyo, assuming the intersex athletes like Caster Semenya remain out of the event. Again, just look at the women Mu would have to beat to make the US team.

All this is assuming, of course, that Mu chooses to run the 800 at the Trials. She would have a decent shot to make the US 400-meter team (or at least one of the relays), as her 50.52 indoor sb ranks #2 in the world in 2021.

Talk about Mu’s historic run on our messageboard.

Results

1 1 Athing MU
Texas A&M [FR]
1:58.40
 PB   CL   MR   FR   CR 
28.65
[28.65]
57.96
[29.32]
1:27.60
[29.64]
1:58.40
[30.81]
2 6 Gabrielle WILKINSON
Florida [SO]
2:02.85
 PB 
29.06
[29.06]
59.46
[30.41]
1:31.17
[31.71]
2:02.85
[31.69]
3 2 Shafiqua MALONEY
Arkansas [SR]
2:03.12
 PB 
28.89
[28.89]
59.17
[30.28]
1:31.41
[32.25]
2:03.12
[31.71]
4 5 Sintayehu VISSA
Ole Miss [SO]
2:06.97 30.39
[30.39]
1:01.80
[31.41]
1:34.42
[32.63]
2:06.97
[32.55]
5 4 Jenna SCHWINGHAMER
Kentucky [FR]
2:07.55
 PB 
30.35
[30.35]
1:01.63
[31.29]
1:34.99
[33.36]
2:07.55
[32.56]
6 8 Abbie HARRELSON
Florida [SR]
2:07.79
 PB 
30.59
[30.59]
1:01.92
[31.34]
1:34.60
[32.68]
2:07.79
[33.19]
7 7 Quinn OWEN
Arkansas [JR]
2:09.26 29.74
[29.74]
1:01.21
[31.47]
1:34.87
[33.67]
2:09.26
[34.40]
8 3 Anna Marian BLOCK
Georgia [JR]
2:10.39 30.15
[30.15]
1:01.65
[31.51]
1:36.10
[34.45]
2:10.39
[34.30]

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