Olympic Women’s 800 — In Absolute Control All The Way

Up the final straight it was the same as the rest of the race: everybody else chasing Athing Mu. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

THE 19-YEAR-OLD WUNDERKIND of American track, Athing Mu took control of the world’s greatest stage, winning the 2-lapper with an American Record 1:55.21. She supplanted the mark of 1:55.61 set four years ago by Ajee’ Wilson, and in the process became only the second American ever to win the event, Madeline Manning having struck gold in ’68.

But it wasn’t just what Mu did but how she did it that set her apart. She had run in the pack, just off the lead, at the Olympic Trials and again in her heat on the first day in Tokyo. But that was the last time she let her competitors see anything but her back.

Leading every step of the way in the final, she replicated her semi run perfectly, making the two efforts look like duplicates, albeit with her final being almost 3 seconds faster than her semi time of 1:58.07.

The final included Ethiopian Habitam Alemu and Britain’s Alexandra Bell, the two runners who had shadowed Mu in her semifinal race. Bell had been added to the UK squad when Laura Muir opted to concentrate on the 1500, joining Jemma Reekie and Keely Hodgkinson—another 19-year-old—to give Britain 3 in the final.

Second American Raevyn Rogers, runner-up in the OT, was the last time qualifier, Wilson having fallen short in the semis after a season filled with nicks and bruises. Frontrunning Jamaican Natoya Goule and China’s Chunyu Wang rounded out the field of 8.

Mu’s strategy was simple, as she shared later: “I wanted to go early from the front and not let anyone mess up my race plan. If nobody was going out there I was going to do it myself. If anything happened, I was going to attack it with whoever was making that move.”

Running in lane 3 she took the lead from the gun. When the field broke for the pole Goule, in lane 5, came up on Mu’s shoulder and then relaxed, choosing to follow to the outside rather than breaking to the rail. Mu reached the end of the straight in a quick but not frantic 27.4, the same time she’d run in her semi. Goule and Alemu followed closely, just 0.1 and 0.2 back. Wang ran on the curb, nearly side-by-side with Alemu, with the British tandem of Reekie and Hodgkinson right behind, followed by Bell and Rogers.

Mu let off the pedal on the second curve, letting the field stay close. Alemu let a slight gap open around the curve, but at the bell Mu maintained the same advantages over Goule and Alemu as she had at 200m despite having slowed to a 30.4 second 200. The field appeared to be eyeing Mu cautiously, no one wanting to force the issue, satisfied to follow in Mu’s wake. Her time was 57.82 at the bell, as opposed to her Olympic Trials race, when she had run 57.53 while chasing Chanelle Price. She had set a PR 1:56.07 at the Trials, the world’s fastest time of the year, in what was her last race before Tokyo.

Mu forced the pace around the turn, running on the outside portion of lane 1 and creating gaps within the pack. She charged down the backstretch, splintering her pursuers into a single file, while fending off the charges of Goule and Alemu. Still a close race, with only 1.1 seconds from Mu to 8th-running Bell. Mu had run her third 200 in a quick 29.3, reaching the end of the backstretch in 1:27.1, with Goule and Alemu still only 0.1 and 0.2 back.

Mu severed the chasing tail around the turn, dropping a 14-flat 100 on the field as Goule and Alemu fell out of contention. Reekie and Hodgkinson hugged the rail and swept past the fading pair, chasing the tall (5-10/1.78), long-striding Mu, yet losing ground all the same. In the last 15m of the bend and in the final straight, Mu ended any questions about being caught, as she ran her final 100 in another 14.0. Her closing 200 registered 28.1, with the final 400 in 57.39, an impressive negative split in such a fast race.

Reekie, who had worked her way through on the curb on the backstretch and in the curve, faded in the homestretch, with Hodgkinson exhibiting the kick she had shown in the earlier rounds moving past on the outside to take 2nd with an NR 1:55.88, making her the world’s No. 4 Junior ever. Some 7m back, the fast-closing Rogers had moved from 7th coming out of the turn to 3rd, as she passed Reekie with 3m to go to become the No. 4 American ever with her 1:56.81.

Reekie finished 4th with a PR 1:56.90. Wang, 5th in 1:57.00, and Bell, 7th in 1:57.66, also registered PRs, while Alemu clocked a season best 1:57.66 in 6th. Goule, the one who tried hardest to stay with Mu, paid the price, finishing last in 1:58.26.


WOMEN’S 800 RESULTS

(August 03) (temperature 82F/28C; humidity 82%)

1. Athing Mu (US) 1:55.21 AR, AJR (old AR 1:55.61 Ajee’ Wilson [adi] ’17; old AJR 1:56.07 Mu ’21 (WL) (11, x W; 2, 6 WJ)

(27.4, 30.4 [57.8], 29.3 [1:27.1], 28.1) (14.1, 28.1, 57.4) (57.82/57.39);

2. Keely Hodgkinson (GB) 1:55.88 NR (4, 11 WJ)

(27.7, 30.7 [58.4], 29.2 [1:27.6], 28.3) (14.2, 28.3, 57.5) (58.4/57.5);

3. Raevyn Rogers (US) 1:56.81 PR (4, 9 A)

(27.9, 31.0 [58.9], 28.7 [1:27.6], 29.2) (14.0, 29.2, 57.9) (58.9/57.9)

4. Jemma Reekie (GB) 1:56.90 PR

(27.7, 30.6 [58.3], 29.1 [1:27.4], 29.5) (15.3, 29.5, 58.6) (58.3/58.6);

5. Chunyu Wang (Chn) 1:57.00 PR

(27.6, 30.6 [58.2], 29.9 [1:28.1], 28.9) (14.5, 28.9, 58.8) (58.2/58.8);

6. Habitam Alemu (Eth) 1:57.56

(27.6, 30.5 [58.1], 29.3 [1:27.4], 30.2) (15.5, 30.2, 59.5) (58.1/59.5);

7. Alexandra Bell (GB) 1:57.66 PR

(27.9, 30.6 [58.5], 29.8 [1:28.3], 29.4) (14.7, 29.4, 59.2) (58.5/59.2);

8. Natoya Goule (Jam) 1:58.26

(27.5, 30.5 [58.0], 29.3 [1:27.3], 31.0) (16.3, 31.0, 60.3) (58.0/60.3).

HEATS (July 30)

I–1. Renelle Lamote (Fra) 2:01.92; 2. Winnie Nanyondo (Uga) 2:02.02; 3. Lore Hoffmann (Swi) 2:02.05; 4. Angelika Sarna (Pol) 2:02.18; 5. Madeleine Kelly (Can) 2:02.39; 6. Morgan Mitchell (Aus) 2:05.44;… dnf—Līga Velvere (Lat).

II–1. Goule 1:59.83; 2. Noélie Yarigo (Ben) 2:00.11; 3. Hedda Hynne (Nor) 2:00.76; 4. Halimah Nakaayi (Uga) 2:00.92; 5. Katharina Trost (Ger) 2:00.99; 6. Eunice Sum (Ken) 2:03.00; 7. Nadia Power (Ire) 2:03.74; 8. Rose Nathike Lokonyen (SSD) 2:11.87 NR.

III–1. Mu 2:01.10; 2. Alemu 2:01.20; 3. Joanna Jóźwik (Pol) 2:01.87; 4. Melissa Bishop-Nriagu (Can) 2:02.11; 5. Christina Hering (Ger) 2:02.23; 6. Bianka Bartha-Kéri (Hun) 2:02.82; 7. Louise Shanahan (Ire) 2:03.57.

IV–1. Rogers 2:01.42; 2. Hodgkinson 2:01.59; 3. Mary Moraa (Ken) 2:01.66; 4. Netsanet Desta (Eth) 2:01.98; 5. Lindsey Butterworth (Can) 2:02.45; 6. Anna Wielgosz (Pol) 2:03.20; 7. Síofra Cléirigh Büttner (Ire) 2:04.62; 8. W.K.L.A. Nimali (SrL) 2:10.23.

V–1. Rose M. Almanza (Cub) 2:00.71; 2. Déborah Rodríguez (Uru) 2:00.90; 3. Rababe Arafi (Mor) 2:00.96; 4. Bell 2:00.96; 5. Catriona Bisset (Aus) 2:01.65; 6. Delia Sclabas (Swi) 2:03.03; 7. Shafiqua Maloney (StV) 2:07.89; 8. D Jamila Tavares (STP) 2:16.72 PR.

VI–1. Reekie 1:59.97; 2. Ajee’ Wilson (US) 2:00.02; 3. Wang 2:00.05; 4. Sara Kuivisto (Fin) 2:00.15 NR; 5. Elena Bellò (Ita) 2:01.07; 6. Natalia Romero (Spa) 2:01.16 PR; 7. Gabriela Gajanová (Svk) 2:01.41; 8. Emily Tuei (Ken) 2:08.08.

SEMIS (July 31)

I–1. Goule 1:59.57; 2. Reekie 1:59.77; 3. Moraa 2:00.47; 4. Wilson 2:00.79; 5. Jóźwik 2:02.32; 6. Bellò 2:02.35; 7. Hynne 2:02.38; 8. Nakaayi 2:04.44.

II–1. Mu 1:58.07 (x, 3 AJ);

2. Alemu 1:58.40; 3. Bell 1:58.83; 4. Hoffmann 1:59.38; 5. Lamote 1:59.40; 6. Kuivisto 1:59.41 NR; 7. Yarigo 2:01.41; 8. Romero 2:01.52.

III–1. Hodgkinson 1:59.12; 2. Wang 1:59.14 PR; 3. Rogers 1:59.28; 4. Almanza 1:59.65; 5. Nanyondo 1:59.84; 6. Arafi 1:59.86; 7. Rodríguez 2:01.76; 8. Trost 2:02.14. ◻︎

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