The remarkable story of Athing Mu, the South Sudanese teen who made U.S. Olympic history

Mildred Europa Taylor August 11, 2021
19-year-old Athing Mu. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

When Athing Mu broke the U.S. indoor 600m record and world under-20 best record at the tender age of 16, she was announcing her amazing talent to the world. The athlete from Trenton, New Jersey, began running at the age of six at the Trenton Track Club. After breaking numerous high school, collegiate and age-group world records, from 400 all the way through to 800m, the 19-year-old recently made U.S. Olympic history after winning the Women’s 800 meters finals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Her dominant win in that race made her the first American since 1972 to win the event, and the first woman since 1968 to do so. Madeline Mims won the 800 meters title at Mexico City in 1968. Mims spoke to Mu five years ago over the phone. Mu told her, “‘I want to be just like you. I want to win a gold medal,’” Mims recalled in an interview with TODAY.

Today, Mu has been able to claim that top spot since the 1968 Mexico City Games and is ready to do more, drawing inspiration from her roots. Born to South Sudanese parents who moved to the United States over 20 years ago, Mu is the second-youngest of seven children and the first of her siblings to be born in the United States. She grew up in a family that had little money. Her father serves as a seafood processor in the Pacific Northwest while her mom works in a warehouse.

Mu’s elder brother, Malual, is also an athlete and runs track and field for Penn State University. “When you are from an immigrant family that comes in with its back against the wall, you know what the bottom is,” Athing’s brother Deng told the New York Times in 2020. “It gives us a focus on pursuing things that would help us improve our lives.”

Although Mu attended Trenton Central High school, she did not run for her high school. Rather, she runs for Trenton Track Club in her hometown, where she first met her coach when she was five years old. Mu would go on to break the American record in the 600 meters, running 1:23.57 at the USA Track and Field Indoor Championships. On the back of her incredible high school career, Mu chose to attend college at Texas A&M University, where she became one of the most dominant collegiate runners, shattering numerous records including the indoor and outdoor 800 meters.

Even though she is considered an expert at 800 meters, she is also a talented runner over 400 meters. In June, she set a collegiate record for the 400 meters, running a 49.57 at the NCAA Championship for her university, Texas A&M.

To grab her place at the Olympics, she recorded the second-fastest result in American history with a time of 1:56.07 at Olympic trials, according to a report by the Insider. The report added that she made her senior Olympic debut in Tokyo, but has competed at the games before, winning a silver 800m medal at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.

“My first international racing experience couldn’t have gone any better!” Mu said recently. “Proud to be able to represent USA and also being the runner up at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in the 800m.”

And just days after claiming gold in the women’s 800m at Tokyo, Mu combined with her American teammates to finish the 4x400m relay in 3 minutes, 16.85 seconds for a runaway victory. Her aim now is to continue to shine for the U.S.

Away from the track, the 19-year-old sensation loves to watch Gray’s Anatomy, and to gear herself up for races, she listens to music from the 2011 Disney movie “Lemonade Mouth”.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 11, 2021


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