2023 Worlds W800m Preview: Will Athing Mu Race? If Not, Who Is The Favorite?

Last year’s World Athletics Championships women’s 800 final was one of the most exciting races of the meet. In the end, it ended up like this.

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Brit Keely Hodgkinson definitely gave Olympic 800 champion Athing Mu and the home crowd a big scare as Mu had to outdip her at the line.

What will happen in 2023 in Budapest? Well, it’s hard to preview the women’s 800 when we don’t know if the reigning World and Olympic champ Mu — who hasn’t lost an 800 as a pro with her last 800 loss coming in 2020 — will even race as her coach Bobby Kersee recently said she may skip Worlds even though she’s healthy.

Prelims: Wednesday, August 23, 4:05 a.m. ET; Semis: Friday, August 25, 2:25 p.m. ET; Final: Sunday, August 27, 2:45 p.m. ET

2022 WCH Results
1. Athing Mu USA 1:56.30
2. Keely Hodgkinson GBR 1:56.38
3. Mary Moraa KEN 1:56.71
4. Diribe Welteji ETH 1:57.02
5. Natoya Goule-Topping JAM 1:57.90
6. Raevyn Rogers USA 1:58.26
7. Anita Horvat SLO 1:59.83
8. Ajee Wilson USA 2:00.19

2023’s Fastest Performers (among women entered)
1. 1:55.77 Keely Hodgkinson GBR
2. 1:56.85 Mary Moraa KEN
3. 1:57.30 Jemma Reekie GBR
4. 1:57.61 Natoya Goule-Toppin JAM
5. 1:57.62 Halimah Nakaayi UGA
6. 1:57.78 Catriona Bisset AUS
7. 1:58.48 Abbey Caldwell AUS
8. 1:58.59 Habitam Alemu ETH
9. 1:58.64 Rénelle Lamote FRA
10. 1:58.65 Noélie Yarigo BEN

The Big Three

If Mu races, it’d be foolish not to pick the same three medallists to medal again as the top three from 2022 have really emerged as the best of the best in this event. Moraa and Hodgkinson have combined for 4 out of the 5 Diamond League wins in the women’s 800m thus far this season, and it probably would have been 5 out of 5 if Hodgkinson did not pull out of the London Diamond League due to illness.

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Mary Moraa runs 1:56.85 in the women’s 800m at Kamila Skolimowska Memorial in Silesia, Poland

Moraa and Hodgkinson have raced each other plenty of times in recent years, with Hodgkinson leading the all-time matchups at 800, 5 to 4. And while Hodgkinson beat Moraa in the World Championship final last year and has the world-leading time in 2023, it’s hard to say she’s a definitive favorite over Moraa as Moraa has won their last three matchups outdoors, including the Commonwealth Games and Diamond League finals last year. This year in their lone matchup outdoors, Moraa proceeded to beat Hodgkinson in Lausanne in a tactical race, despite Keely’s blazing 1:55.77 she ran earlier in the year. Moraa has been on fire in the 800m as of late, winning her last 10 outdoor 800m races starting with the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

Despite Moraa’s recent outdoor success over Hodgkinson, Hodgkinson has proved that she steps up when it matters most, earning silver in the last World Championships and Olympic Games behind Mu. Last year, Hodgkinson went into Worlds after getting beat by Moraa convincingly in Stockholm in her last race and with just a 1:57.71 sb. At Worlds, Hodgkinson improved to 1:56.38 and nearly won gold.

Hodgkinson has never opened her season up as fast as she did this season, and she will be looking to continue that form on the track in Budapest. Similar to Mu, her last race was not a 800m race, but rather a 3rd place finish in the European U23 final over 400m in Espoo, Finland. The Brit has been working on her speed more and more, in hopes of finally being able to outkick Mu in the final 100m of a major final.

However, with all this being said, the favorite for the event still has to be Athing Mu if she races. While she might only have a season’s best of 1:58.73 (15th best in the world this year), she has the fastest PB of anyone competing this year at the World Championships. This season for Mu has been one of infrequent racing, common for athletes under her coach Bobby Kersee. In her lone 800m race this season, she won the NYC Grand Prix. Outside of that, she impressively made the U.S. 1500m final and placed 2nd overall in a time of 4:03.44. Given her 400 speed, with that type of 1500 fitness, it’s hard to imagine she’s not ready to run a good 800. Also it’s important to repeat that she still remains undefeated over the outdoor 800m as a professional and is a combined 5-0 versus Moraa and Hodgkinson.

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The Next Three

The next three fastest women this year all have an outside chance at medalling if something goes wrong with one of the women up front (or if Mu is a DNS). These next three include Jemma Reekie, Natoya Goule-Toppin, and Halimah Nakaayi.

Earlier this year, Reekie along with Laura Muir left their previous coach Andy Young in the middle of a training camp in South Africa. Reekie seems to be doing well since the change. She won the London Diamond League in a time of 1:57.30, and placed 2nd to Keely in the UK Athletics Championships 800m. Additionally, if Mu’s 4:03 is impressive, Reekie went up in distance at the Silesia Diamond League on July 16 and ran 3:58.65. That type of strength will definitely help her through the three rounds in Budapest.

Natoya Goule-Toppin has raced every single Diamond League 800m so far this season and has placed on the podium in 4 out of 5 of them. While the World Championships have three rounds and does not have a rabbit through 500m, the Diamond League is the best of the best and Goule-Toppin has been able to place well amongst the top class. She’s the DL points leader in 2023 but has never medalled. At 32, it would be nice to see her rewarded for her longevity. Last year (5th) was her best showing ever at Worlds.

Nakaayi, the 2019 world champion, enters Worlds in great form at age 28. In her last two races, she’s run a lifetime best in both of them, running 1:57.78 (2nd place) in Silesia on July 16 and 1:57.62 (3rd place) in London on July 23. Nakaayi has slowly improved over the course of the season, starting out at 2:00.21 and dropping down to her new national records. If she hopes to place on the podium in Budapest, she’s going to need to drop her record down even further as the last few championships have been won in under 1:57.

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The Americans

Since Athing Mu is the reigning world champion, she has the bye this year and did not compete in the 800m at USAs. Therefore, the U.S. is sending four women total, with the other three placing on the podium this year at USAs.

Those three women are Nia Akins, Raevyn Rogers, and Kaela Edwards. Out of all of the American women running 800s this season, these women rank 8th, 4th, and 12th in the US, respectively, in terms of season’s bests. As Rojo pointed out on the messageboards earlier this week, 11 women have run faster than Edwards this season from the United States. Eleven. She greatly exceeded her expectations and made the team. Making the final would be a success for Edwards.

Medals can’t be ruled out for the other two, however.

Nia Akins is the U.S. champion from this year, and has been undefeated in the outdoor 800m (only four races). She is the U.S. indoor champion as well this year, proving that she belongs at the top of the American 800m scene if Athing Mu isn’t in the race. This is Akins’ first outdoor team, but she looks primed to contend for a medal in Budapest if one of the Big 3 falters.

Lastly, Raevyn Rogers, the two-time global medallist was able to secure a spot on the team for the 4th straight time. Rogers’ experience will definitely come in handy in Budapest. However, on the global scene this season, Rogers has struggled. In her two Diamond League appearances she placed 10th and 7th. Is making a final now a good accomplishment for Raevyn or can she regain some of her old magic? She’s slowly been declining in place the last few years at global outdoor finals as she was 2nd in 2019, 3rd in 2021, 6th in 2022 and enters Worlds in 2023 as the 21st fastest woman on the year.

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Who will win the women's 800m at Worlds?

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If Athinig Mu doesn't run Worlds, who wins?

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LRC Prediction: 1. Mu 2. Moraa 3. Hodgkinson

Mu is the defending Olympic and world champion and has been undefeated over 800m as a professional. She has to be the favorite. Moraa gets the silver ahead of Hodgkinson because of her recent success over Hodgkinson since the last World Championships. If Mu doesn’t run, put Reekie down for a medal.

More: Other LRC Previews: *M800m *M 1500 *MSteeple *M 10K *W1500 *W 10K

LetsRun.com is the home of running and the sport’s front page. Come back every day as we’ll be previewing all of the distance events and then covering them extensively from Budapest.

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