Athing Mu’s confidence pays off with U.S. gold in 800 meters

Athing Mu smiles on the track, flanked by competitors after the finish
Athing Mu of the U.S. smiles after winning the gold medal in the 800-meter final at the Tokyo Olympics Tuesday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Before she left the United States to compete in the Olympics, Athing Mu spied a hair barrette in a department store. The accessory and the word inscribed on it, she said, were perfect for her planned appearance in the 800-meter final.

“It says ‘CONFIDENT,” because I’m confident,” Mu said Tuesday after she became the first American woman in more than a half century to win an Olympic gold medal in the 800.

Just as she did in the U.S. Olympic trials and in her first two Olympic races, Mu, 19, was in complete control en route to a victory that continued to cement her status as one of track and field’s rising young stars.


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Mu finished in 1 minute 55.21 seconds to give the United States its first gold medal of these Games in a running event. Keely Hodgkinson of Britain earned the silver medal, Raevyn Rogers of the United States won the bronze.

In winning the gold medal, Mu matched a feat last achieved for the U.S. by Madeline Manning at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

“It was definitely a goal of mine to be a gold medalist,” Mu said. “I knew it was possible, so I’m not super … shocked or anything.”

USA's Athing Mu leads the pack during the 800-meters final
The United States’ Athing Mu leads the pack during the 800-meters final, going on to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Mu, a New Jersey native, attended Texas A&M for one year and won the NCAA 400-meter title before turning pro. She qualified for the Games in the 800 in a world-leading 1:56.07.

After her victory Tuesday, she indicated that she has plans beyond dominating the 800. In the future, she aims to run both the 400- and 800-meter events.


“I want to do that,” she said. “We’re also looking to break the 800 world record eventually.”

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Then she quickly corrected herself.

“Not eventually,” she said. “We’re going to break it.”

In 1983, Jarmila Kratochvilova of Czechoslovakia set the world record of 1:53.28.

Other American track and field athletes who earned medals Tuesday: long jumper Brittney Reese (silver): 400-meter hurdles runner Rai Benjamin (silver); pole vaulter Chris Nilsen (silver); 200-meter sprinter Gabrielle Thomas (bronze).