U.S. Olympic track and field trials: Athing Mu won't defend her 800 meters gold after stunning fall

Athing Mu’s bid to repeat as Olympic champion in the women's 800 meters ended Monday night in the most gutting possible way.

A stunning fall midway through the first lap of the two-lap race left Mu too far back to regain contact with the rest of the runners.

Mu was running in the third lane from the rail when she veered inside a little too close to fellow Tokyo Olympian Raevyn Rogers. The two runners appeared to get their feet tangled, Rogers stumbling without losing her footing and Mu sprawling to the ground.

Three years after her radiant smile and unparalleled speed made her one of the faces of the Tokyo Olympics, Mu crossed the Hayward Field finish line with tears in her eyes on Monday night. Her time of 2:19.69 was 20-plus seconds slower than winner Nia Akins or fellow Paris qualifiers Allie Wilson and Juliette Whittaker.

"She took it hard and she should," her coach, Bob Kersee, told Yahoo Sports. "It's a four-year wait for another Olympic Trials. I told her, 'Accept the pain. You worked hard for this. But don't let it tear you down.'"

In the 800, runners stay in their lanes for the opening 100 meters of the race before cutting in toward the rail. Kersee said he sometimes gets criticized for instructing Mu to run on the outside to avoid traffic, but he does it because of her long stride and the possibility that she can get clipped.

Kersee said he filed a protest with USA Track and Field on Monday night claiming that other runners "impeded" Mu. That appeal was denied, Kersee said.

Other countries have built safety nets into their Olympic selection process for situations like this. They’ll consider season-long performance or previous Olympic or World championship results when selecting their team. In the U.S., there is no politics involved, no big names resting on past achievements. It's top three or bust, whether you're a past champion or a young unknown.

Had Mu not fallen, it’s difficult to imagine the 22-year-old not winning the race, let alone failing to make the top three. This is a woman who has been one of the brightest stars in U.S. track and field since before she was legally old enough to order a glass of wine at a restaurant.

Mu broke NCAA records at Texas A&M, captured Olympic gold in the 800 and the 4x400-meter relay in 2021 and validated that with a win on U.S. soil at World Championships the following year. She had scarcely lost a race her whole career until settling for bronze at last year’s World Championships.

Injuries had derailed Mu's bid for redemption for much of this season. She didn't even make her season debut until Friday at Olympic trials, raising questions about her fitness.

Mu answered those questions quickly by cruising through the first round of qualifying and then by posting the fastest semifinal time. She appeared poised to make the U.S. team with ease until her ill-timed fall Monday night.

Kersee said Mu should be considered for a spot on the U.S. 4x400 relay in Paris and that she would like to participate if given the chance. Petitioning to run the 1,500 at Trials is not an option, Kersee said, because Mu is "not prepared" to run that distance.

With Mu out of the 800, it will now be up to Akins, Wilson and Whittaker to try to make up for her absence. Akins won the U.S. 800 meters title last year when Mu chose to compete in the 1,500. She then made the final at the World Championships in Budapest but settled for sixth place.

Whittaker is the 2024 NCAA indoor and outdoor 800 champion. Wilson's best finish at USA Outdoor Nationals prior to this year was fourth in 2022.