Olympic champion Athing Mu mulling whether to defend her world championship in 800 meters

Athing Mu holds her gold medal and a stuffed animal.
Gold medalist Athing Mu in the women’s 800-meter run at the World Athletics Championships last July.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Athing Mu answered one of track and field’s most anticipated, and lingering, questions in July when she qualified for the world championships in the 1,500 meters, only to quickly give up her spot in that event. One of the sport’s brightest stars as the reigning Olympic and world champion in the women’s 800 meters at just 21 years old, Mu was in effect choosing to focus on the 800 at August’s world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

But whether she will indeed run the 800 at worlds is itself a question still without an answer. For the past several weeks Mu and those around her have been mulling two options — whether to defend her title or train, and not compete, through the rest of this season with her focus on the 2024 Paris Olympics.

On Wednesday, three weeks before the first round of the 800 meters begins in Budapest, Mu’s coach, Bobby Kersee of the Los Angeles-based Formula Kersee training group, told The Times that decision still has yet to be made.


“It’s in our control if we decide we’re just going to go ahead and train through this year and focus on next year, then that’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “The training is going well but our thought process, openly, is that we’re going to just train here in L.A. for the next two weeks and the next time she gets on the plane it’ll either be on vacation or to Budapest.”

Coach Bobby Kersee discusses the futures of Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Athing Mu, who might compete in two events each at world track championships.

July 9, 2023

In the meantime, that means Mu will no longer compete in the 400 meters at this weekend’s Ed Murphey Classic in Memphis, Tenn., as scheduled, and instead remain in Los Angeles while continuing that training and mulling whether to ultimately run in Budapest. The meet director of the Ed Murphey Classic, Max Paquette, confirmed in an email Wednesday that Mu had withdrawn for a “precautionary measure ahead of the World Championships.”

Mu will still declare for the world championships while playing her decision by ear, Kersee said, adding that he and Mu’s team have felt comfortable waiting because Mu, as the reigning world champion, held a guaranteed spot in the Budapest field, and as such would not be taking away another U.S. runner’s opportunity no matter her decision. If she does choose to run at this month’s world championships, it would be the 800 solely and not on any U.S. relay, Kersee added. Mu has relay experience, having won a second Olympic gold medal in Tokyo on the 4x400-meter relay.

In track and field, the most important — and for many athletes, lucrative, because of shoe-company contract incentives — competitions are world championships held in odd years and the summer Olympic games every four. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Olympics to be postponed one year, it compressed the sport’s championships into a tight timeline, with either a world championships or Olympics every year from 2021 through 2025. In the case of Mu, Kersee has said that he has tried to be cognizant of the workload asked of elite athletes such as herself and also the demands of his still-new training regimen, as Mu joined his training group only last November.

The world-championship semifinals in the women’s 800 are Aug. 25 and the final is Aug. 27.

Bobby Kersee has helped transform Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, Athing Mu and many others into champion runners — and he shows no signs of slowing down.

May 26, 2023