RRW: Athing Mu vs. Elle Purrier St. Pierre Could Be Most Interesting Millrose Match-Up

By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2022 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved

NEW YORK (28-Jan) — At the last edition of the Millrose Games nearly two years ago, Elle Purrier St. Pierre won a pitched last-lap battle with Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen in the Wanamaker Mile, setting a new American record of 4:16.85.  Her time was the second-fastest ever indoors by a woman, and was the performance which best telegraphed that she would win the 2021 USA Olympic Trials in the 1500m and qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. It was a memorable day for the 26 year-old from Montgomery, Vermont.

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Athing Mu winning the USATF indoor 600m title in 2019 where she ran an American indoor record of 1:23.57 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

“You know, that was probably one of the most favorite races that I’ve ever run,” Purrier St. Pierre said at a press conference here this morning in advance of tomorrow’s 114th Millrose Games at The Armory in Upper Manhattan.  She continued: “I went in without a lot of pressure and had great results.  I think just that weekend in general was one of my favorite weekends.”

For tomorrow’s Wanamaker, Purrier St. Pierre will again race against Klosterhalfen, who set a German indoor record of 4:17.26 behind her, and her USA Olympic 1500m teammates Cory McGee and Heather MacLean among others (Purrier St. Pierre and MacLean are training partners).  The field is deep: eleven of the 13 women in the field have run 4:33 or better for the mile and five have run 4:26 or better.

But it is the woman with the slowest personal best in the field who is getting most of the attention as potentially Purrier St. Pierre’s top rival.  Athing Mu, the 2021 Olympic 800m gold medalist (who also won gold in the 4 x 400m relay) decided just four days ago to switch from the 800m to the mile after setting a personal best of 4:37.99 at the Ted Nelson Invitational in College Station, Texas, on January 15.  Of course, she holds the American record for 800m, 1:55.04, a mark which is equivalent to a 4:12.04 mile according to the World Athletics middle distance scoring tables.

Mu, who is just 19, may not have a lot of experience in the mile, but it is a distance she was introduced to early in her high school career.  As a ninth grader, she won the freshman section of the mile at the New Balance Nationals Indoors at The Armory in 2017, clocking 4:59.48.  Later that year, she again won the freshman section of the mile at the New Balance Nationals Outdoors in 5:02.55.  She likes the event, even though her usual “off” distance is the 400m where she’s run a world class 49.57.

“I’m doing the mile again; I’m back,” Mu said playfully this morning.  “Some people think it’s kind of new.  I guess it’s been a couple of years, so I guess it is kind of new.  But, I had a little taste of the mile being a freshman in high school and, I don’t know, it’s just good to be back.”

What kind of fitness Mu has right now for running a distance which is more than double her specialty is anyone’s guess, and she offered no predictions.  Instead, she paid tribute to Purrier St. Pierre who ran a personal best 3:58.03 in winning the Olympic Trials and finished tenth in Tokyo.

“Elle is amazing,” said Mu.  “I watched her compete last year.  She’s a really good athlete.”  She added: “I’m excited to be in the race with her.”

Purrier St. Pierre, who has been training at altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz., with her New Balance Boston coach Mark Coogan, was reluctant to reveal how she was feeling about her fitness.  But when asked about a recent workout she did, she projected confidence.

“We went down to Phoenix to run at sea level and we did a 1000 and a workout after and it went pretty well,” she offered, before breaking into a knowing smile and then a laugh.

Neither athlete spoke about what pace the race would might out in, but in 2020 the field hit halfway in a fast 2:09.6 and Purrier St. Pierre ran the last quarter mile in 62.2 seconds where she went from fourth place to first.  The crowd roared when Purrier St. Pierre passed the tiring Klosterhalfen in the homestretch, and Mu said she was looking forward to that kind of crowd energy after competing in a virtually empty stadium at the Olympics.

“I’m excited to be back,” said Mu who is from Trenton, New Jersey.  “It’s been a couple of years.  I’ve run on a couple of more indoor tracks, but there’s nothing like The Armory, especially it being right next to home.  The crowd is always amazing.”

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