Tokyo may have been her Olympic debut, but 19-year-old Athing Mu ran like a veteran to capture Team USA’s first Olympic gold medal in the 800 meters since 1968, setting a new American record of 1:55.21.
“I knew this was where I was supposed to be at this point in time,” she said to the media after the race. “As long as my mind was right, I was going to accomplish my goals.”
The New Jersey native controlled Tuesday’s race from the outset, passing through 400 meters in 57.82 before surging away from the field with a negative split of 57.39 for the second lap.
“I wanted to go early from the front and not let anyone mess up my race plan. I just wanted to do my own thing,” Mu said. “It’s exactly what I have been doing in all my races. I just go out there and run. Whatever comes is going to come and I’m just going to go with them.”
Fellow 19-year-old Keely Hodgkinson of Great Britain— who also set a national record of 1:55.88—claimed the silver medal. Team USA teammate Raevyn Rogers used her signature late-race kick to whip past Great Britain’s Jemma Reekie to earn bronze in a new personal best of 1:56.81 and join Mu on the podium in her first Olympic Games. The duo produced the best-ever showing for Team USA in the 800-meter event, according to Runner’s World. (Besides Madeline Manning Mims, who won gold in 1968, the only other American woman to medal in the 800 meters at the Olympics was Kim Gallagher, who won silver in 1984 and bronze in 1988.)
Mu, a running phenom since even before her collegiate days, signed with Nike days before winning the 800 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June. A whirlwind freshman year at Texas A&M saw her win three NCAA titles and set six collegiate records, including 49.57 in the 400 meters—the fourth-fastest time in the world this year and a mark that will likely snag her a spot on the United States’ heavily favored 4 x 400-meter relay team in Tokyo.
Mu mostly focused on the 400 meters during her collegiate season and saved the 800 meters for her senior international debut. But she and her coach are already talking about doubling in future global championships. Currently, Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena is the only person to win gold in both the 400 meters and 800 meters at the Olympics, which he accomplished in 1976, according to Olympics.com.
And if that’s not historic enough, she has even bigger plans too—Mu has her sights set on a world record.
“I’m also gonna break the 800 world record, eventually,” she told media after the event. “Not even eventually. We’re gonna break it at some…we’re gonna break it.”
Mu’s 800-meter victory was just one record-breaking performance on Tuesday’s track lineup: Karsten Warholm of Norway started off the action in the morning session with a world record of 45.94 in the men’s 400-meter hurdles. Later during the evening session, immediately following Mu’s American record performance, Elaine Thompson-Herah of Jamaica won the 200-meter final in 21.53, the second-fastest time in world history behind Florence Griffith-Joyner’s world record of 21.34.
It was the second time in the span of three days that Thompson-Herah sparked comparisons to Flo-Jo. On Saturday morning, her 100-meter Olympic record of 10.61 made her the fastest woman alive to run that distance.
And there might be more record-breaking in store on the Olympic track.
In tonight’s primetime window (morning in Tokyo), the two fastest women in world history for the 400-meter hurdles will race for Olympic gold. Americans Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin have traded the world record back and forth over the past few years, with the 21-year-old McLaughlin winning their most recent battle at the U.S. Olympic Trials with a new world record.