Athing Mu Survives Scare and Qualifies For 2023 World Championship Final

BUDAPEST, Hungary —The women’s 800 final for the 2023 World Athletics Championships is set as the three semifinals were run tonight and all of the major players will be in it, but that didn’t mean tonight’s action wasn’t without some drama. Reigning World and Olympic champ Athing Mu will be there but she had to overcome a near fall 475 meters into her heat and a total loss of momentum but still rallied to auto-qualify in second out of heat three (1:58.78). All of the people that most pundits viewed as the biggest medal contenders besides Mu also advanced as the second, third and fourth placers from last year’s Worlds all won a heat – Keely Hodgkinson (1:58.48, heat 1), Mary Moraa (1:58.48 heat 3), Jemma Reekie (2:00.28 heat 2).

The two other Americans in the semis will also be in the final as an American actually finished second in all three heats as Nia Akins was second in heat 1 (1:58.61)  and Raevyn Rogers second in heat 2 (2:00.47).

Mu was lucky to not go down in this one

Beforehand no one would have anticipated that Mu would provide the most drama but when she was clipped from behind by South Africa’s Prudence Sekbodiso as she neared the end of the third turn, Mu did a great job of not going down like Sekbodiso but Mu lost all momentum and was catapulted out into lane 3. But then she showed why she’s never lost an 800 as a pro and quickly caught back up and advanced as an auto qualifier.

The biggest casualties of the semis tonight were Jamaica’s Natoya Goule-Toppin, the 4th fastest woman in the world this year at 1:57.61, and Catriona Bissett, the Australian record holder (1:57.79 pb/sb). Goule-Toppin didn’t advance after finishing third in heat 2 (2:00.78) and Bissett was eliminated after finishing sixth in heat 1 (1:59.94).


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Heat 1

Heat 2

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Quick Take: Should we just hand the gold medal to Mu right now?

When Mu finished second in her heat tonight,  it was the first time she’s ever finished second in an 800 as a pro runner, but we came away extremely impressed by her run. Despite getting jerked around and losing most of her momentum and roughly 10 meters of ground, Mu did not panic and calmly worked her way back into an automatic qualifying spot and almost ran down Mary Moraa. It was impressive to watch and shows that she’s clearly quite fit (it’s hard to run 1:58 while coming to a near-stop midway through).

What we are wondering is what strategy will she use for the final. Mu probably isn’t as fit or confident as she was in 2021 when she went wire to wire. But as we saw tonight, running in the pack has some risks. Even when she is by herself, Athing Mu does not like to run right on the rail. With long legs and long stride, Mu is more prone than most to get tangled up with an opponent. If Mu wants to avoid contact, her best shot is to go out hard and try to run 1:55 from the front. The problem is that Moraa also likes to go hard and Hodgkinson may also be in 1:55 shape right now. It will be fascinating to see how she plays things in the final, but as long as Mu didn’t injure herself in today’s run, we think Mu fans should be more confident she’s the winner on Saturday than before today.

Mu did not stop to talk in the mixed zone and did not even stop to talk to NBC after the race.

Quick Thought: Tell us who is isn’t a potential medallist in this one

All six of the auto qualifiers were impressive tonight. The first-time qualifier, Uganda’s Halimah Nakaayi is a former world champion (2019). Ok, we’d be very surprised if Jamaica’s Adelle Tracey medalled but everyone besides that wouldn’t surprise us too much.

Raevyn Rogers post-race

Jemma Reekie post-race

Keely post-race

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