Athing Mu celebrates after winning bronze medal (Image: AP)
Athing Mu still had on her bedazzled aqua-blue track spikes when she made her announcement: She was officially on vacation.
Before heading on a trip for some rest and relaxation, the 800-meter runner grabbed a bronze medal on the final day of world championships Sunday night. Time for a quick reset before getting back to work to defend her Olympic title at the Paris Games in 11 months.
“I’m just happy my race is over,” said Mu, who entered as the defending champion but nearly skipped worlds due to fatigue. “I can go home and finally enjoy vacation and stop thinking about track and field.”
A bronze from Mu and a gold by the men’s 4x400 relay team pushed the Americans final total to 29 medals in Budapest, including 12 gold. The red, white and blue eclipsed the Jamaicans (12) in total medals, along with Canada and Spain (four apiece) in gold medals.
This wasn’t quite the bountiful haul of last summer, when the U.S. amassed 33 medals, 13 gold, at worlds on home turf in Eugene, Oregon.
Now, it’s time to regroup. But first, a break. That’s Mu’s plan, anyway.
Since winning in Tokyo and in Eugene, Mu has changed coaches to Bobby Kersee and relocated to Los Angeles. It’s been a lot to absorb.
That’s why she nearly passed on worlds.
“Bobby knows what’s going on and he just wanted to make sure that my mental was fine,” Mu explained. “He knows, obviously, what everyone expects for me or what they wish to see from me. He just wants to take that pressure off me and just let me do what I could because this sport is very long. We have many years ahead of us.”
Mu recently deleted all her social media so she could concentrate on training for worlds. In the final, she was leading before being caught by silver medalist Keely Hodgkinson of Britain and Kenya’s Mary Moraa, who punctuated her gold-medal finish by leaping across the line.
“I feel fine. I’m not upset with it at all,” Mu said. “Coming to this meet, the world was already talking about me — whether or not I was coming? What is Bobby doing? What is Athing doing? Athing is gonna lose. Athing is going to (win).
“I just, like, people can just take a chill pill sometime. Just let us do our thing,” Mu added. “I don’t know, just let us be athletes.”
This season, something has been missing for Mu — that extreme passion. That’s why she needs a reset. Just don’t ask where she’s going on vacation, because she’s not saying.
“I feel like I was definitely fighting to find the excitement this go-around,” Mu said. “This year wasn’t my favorite. But we’ll see what happens in the future.”
The Americans turn toward Paris with a lot to be pleased about. Like the emergence of sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, who won gold in the 100 and as part of the women’s 4x100 relay. Or the domination of Noah Lyles, who not only won the 100 and 200 but helped the men’s 4x100 to a title — just like Usain Bolt used to do.
The medal tally could’ve been more, but the Americans were missing several big names. Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, always a sure-fire bet to medal, withdrew due to a minor knee issue. She could possibly compete in both the 400 hurdles and 400 next summer. Michael Norman, the defending 400 champion, also didn’t race.
On the last race of the championships, the women’s 4x400 relay, Team USA could’ve been going for their 30th medal. But they weren’t in the field after being disqualified in the previous round due for a faulty baton exchanged. Instead, Femke Bol made a big comeback in the final few meters to lead the Netherlands to a gold.
It’s the first time the Americans haven’t won gold at worlds in the event since 2015.
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