Olympic 800m champion Athing Mu out of Paris 2024 after falling at US trials

Olympic champion Athing Mu’s hopes for a repeat collapsed during the first round of the 800-meter final at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Monday.

While racing in the middle of the pack, Mu became tangled in a group of runners and fell to the ground before rolling onto her back. She got back to her feet and finished the race, but was more than 22 seconds behind the winner, Nia Akins, who took first place with a time of 1 minute, 57.36 seconds.

Mu, 22, choked back tears as she sped off the track and through the tunnel after the race. She did not immediately come through the media area for interviews.

The Olympic Trials were Mu’s first competition of the year after dealing with injuries all season. She seemed to be in good shape in her first two rounds, but fell out of the running before the first 200 meters in the final.

It was Exhibit A of the brutal format of the US Trials, where the top three finishers make the Olympic team and past performances mean nothing. Mu could still go to Paris as part of the U.S. relay pool; she was a key part of America’s 4x400m gold medal win in Tokyo three years ago.

After winning college, national, world and Olympic championships before turning 21, Mu won a bronze medal at worlds last year and afterwards admitted she needed a break from the pressure and demands that come with being labeled as one of the new stars of the circuit.

“I definitely wasn’t really happy to be there,” she told The Guardian when asked about her 2023 season. “Mentally, I just wasn’t really there. I just wasn’t there. I didn’t like being there. I didn’t really enjoy what was happening to me.”

She has dominated the 800 meters, thanks in part to a long, meandering stride, and that may be what cost her in a race where she came in as the favorite. Mu was racing on the outside in a tightly packed pack and appeared to be veering left toward Juliette Whitaker when she stumbled, leaving three runners behind her flailing as they jumped over her.

Mu is certainly not the first athlete to experience such an accident. One of the most memorable and heartbreaking moments occurred eight years ago at the same event, when Alysia Montano, seeking a return to the Olympics, stumbled during the homestretch and was left crying on the court.

There was drama elsewhere on a busy evening with six finals.

The women’s 5000 meters amounted to a difference of 0.02 sec. Elle St Pierre finished in 14:40.34, just ahead of Elise Cranny. Both are going to the Olympics.

Vashti Cunningham, who had a total of 13 consecutive U.S. indoor and outdoor titles to her name this week, won a jump-off for third place to make her third Olympic team.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Quincy Wilson finished sixth in the 400m final with a time of 44.94, his third under-45 race in three attempts at the trials.

Now he’s waiting to see if the U.S. track team calls him up to join the relay pool.

“All I know is that I gave it everything I had,” he said. “I can’t be too disappointed. I’m 16 and I perform adult man times.