Athing Mu Becomes American Legend By Winning 2022 World 800m Title

By Jonathan Gault
July 24, 2022

EUGENE, Ore. – Athing Mu has her second global title. And this time she really had to work for it.

That’s not to say what Mu did last year in Tokyo, winning Olympic 800m gold in an American record of 1:55.21, was easy. But she made it look easy, such was her dominance in the home straight. This time around, in the final of the 2022 World Athletics Championships at Hayward Field, Mu was pushed all the way by the brilliant Brit Keely Hodgkinson, but once again emerged as the champion with a gutsy run, clocking a world-leading 1:56.30 to Hodgkinson’s 1:56.38. Converted 400 runner Mary Moraa of Kenya, who only started running the 800 seriously last year, took the bronze in a pb of 1:56.71 as Americans Raevyn Rogers (6th, 1:58.26) and Ajee’ Wilson (8th, 2:00.19) could not find the podium.

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Mu is the first American woman to win the world title at 800 meters and her gold represents the only medal an American won in the mid-d/distance events at this meet, one of the few weak spots in an otherwise dominant performance by Team USA.

Mu is also the only American mid-d/distance runner in history (male or female) to win both a world and Olympic title. And she has accomplished both by the age of 20. She is, quite simply, one of the greatest running talents this country has ever produced.

The Race

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images for World Athletics)

Ethiopia’s Diribe Welteji, as she did in the first two rounds, got to the front early and took this one out hard, hitting 400 in 57.11 with Mu on her outside shoulder and Hodgkinson tucked in behind her on the rail with Moraa on Hodgkinson’s outside in fourth. As they hit the back straight, Mu grabbed the lead as the top four began to separate from the field.

By the final turn, Mu had grabbed a three-meter lead on Hodgkinson and looked to be en route to a comfortable victory. But as she entered the home straight, Mu began to drift to the outside of lane 1 just as Hodgkinson was closing the gap and trying to pass on the inside. It looked to be a fatal mistake for Mu, but just as Hodgkinson was about to draw level, Mu cut back inside to the middle of lane 1. There was still a small window for Hodgkinson to get around, but it was tight and she could not do it. And that was how it would stay for a pulse-pounding final 100 meters as Mu would maintain her gap all the way to the finish line to win by a tight .08. Moraa got the best of Welteji in the home straight to seal the bronze and was delighted with the outcome.

Results, analysis and post-race interviews appear below.

Results

POS
BIB
COUNTRY ATHLETE
MARK
1
1192
USA
1:56.30 WL
2
692
GBR
1:56.38 SB
3
912
KEN
1:56.71 PB
4
643
ETH
1:57.02 PB
5
838
JAM
1:57.90 SB
6
1201
USA
1:58.26
7
1066
SLO
1:59.83
8
1216
USA
2:00.19

Quick Take: Athing Mu is already an American legend at the age of 20

Mu turned 20 years old last month yet she has already won an Olympic title, a world title, and set the American record twice at 800 meters. That’s an incredible career’s worth of accomplishments and Mu has done it before being able to legally purchase a beer. She also has the speed to run the 400 and has said in the past she’d ultimately like to double in both events at Worlds/Olympics. She’s already one of the biggest track & field stars in the country and has the potential to own her event for the next decade.

What was particularly impressive about Mu was how she battled today. In 2021, everything seemed to come easily to Mu. She was blasting collegians for the first five months of the year and then made a seamless transition to the professional ranks where she ran unchallenged in all of her races. Pressure built on her throughout the year, but if she failed…well, she was a 19-year-old college freshman.

This year was different. Mu entered 2022 with a big Nike contract, a lot of attention, and a target painted squarely on her back as the reigning Olympic champion. That is a lot to handle for a teenager, yet Mu came through it brilliantly and ran her best race of the year when it mattered most.

Not only that, but after the race, Mu revealed she was not feeling 100% today. She wouldn’t go into specific details but it was clear something was bothering her. Yet it didn’t stop her from running the fastest time in the world this year and holding off Hodgkinson to win the gold.

“Today was kind of a rough day for me.” Mu said. “…I just physically wasn’t where I would like to be. I just didn’t feel my best.”

Quick Take: Mu said she did not intend to drift out toward lane 2 at the end of the race

We asked Mu why she drifted to the outside of lane 1 as she entered the home straight of the race and she said that it was not a conscious decision. She said she often prefers to run on the outside of the lane to prevent any sort of contact that could lead to a fall, but in this case it was simply a case of being exhausted.

“When I’m basically going at full throttle or going 100% with my sprint, I don’t really pay attention to where I’m at in the lane,” Mu said.

Likewise, when she moved back inside as Hodgkinson approached, she said it was a “natural” move and not an intentional one.

Quick Take: Keely Hodgkinson did everything right

Hodgkinson was not happy with the decisions she made in her final 800 before Worlds when she finished second to Moraa in Stockholm. But tonight she played things perfectly. She was on the rail for essentially the entire race and responded quickly when Mu moved on the backstraight of the bell lap. Hodgkinson got almost every ounce out of her ability tonight but simply got beaten by a superior athlete.

Hodgkinson deserves a ton of credit for running her best race of the year in the biggest race of the year for the second year in a row, but afterwards she deflected all praise and credited her coach Trevor Painter for peaking her correctly.

“That’s down to my coach, that’s not me,” Hodgkinson said. “I just turn up to training, do what I’m told, give myself 100% and go from there. He is amazing. And somehow, he manages to time it at the right time.”

Quick Take: Aside from Mu, the other Americans were a little disappointing

Rogers has become famous for kicking her way into a medal having won silver in Doha in 2019 and bronze in Tokyo last year, but she couldn’t do it tonight and had to settle for 6th. Afterwards, she said she felt she didn’t put herself in the race enough.

“I felt like I was in it,” Rogers said, “but I wasn’t in it.”

Rogers didn’t run poorly. It took 1:56.71 to medal tonight – faster than the 1:56.81 pb she ran in Tokyo last year – and Rogers simply wasn’t ready to do that. The bigger question mark was Wilson, who was .07 behind Mu at USAs, but dead last tonight in 2:00.19. Wilson didn’t come through the mixed zone so we don’t know what was up, but she didn’t look like herself.

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