By Chris Chavez
May 19, 2023
Athing Mu, the Olympic and world champion in the 800 meters, may run the 1500 meters at the upcoming U.S. Championships in July, her coach Bobby Kersee told the Orange County Register.
Here’s what you need to know:
– Mu has yet to race this year. She opted not to compete this indoor season after moving to Los Angeles at the end of last year to join Kersee’s training group.
– She was slated to run at the LA Grand Prix but scratched, with Kersee citing her withdrawal on a recent bout of COVID-19.
– Mu, who had previously opened her racing season in January each year since 2018, has not raced since winning the 800m gold medal at last July’s world championships.
What they are saying:
– Because Mu already has a bye for the World Championships because of last year’s title, Kersee is contemplating having her run the 1500 meters at the U.S. Championships in July, as an opportunity for her to enhance her strength for the 800 meters.
– Kersee believes that if Mu can dip under four minutes in the 1500 meters, it will go a long way toward her being able to break Jarmila Kratochvilova’s 800 meter world record, 1:53.28, which has stood since 1983.
– With her 1:55.04 PB, Mu is currently the eighth-fastest woman in history and the American record holder. The only woman to run under 1:55 in the last 15 years is Caster Semenya, whose 800m personal best is 1:54.25 and 1500m is 3:59.92.
– No woman has won the 1500 and 800 meters at the same Olympic games since Brit Kelly Holmes in 2004, but Kersee mentioned the possibility of Mu attempting to pull it off in Paris. Holmes’s career bests were 1:56.21 and 3:57.90
– Mu was a member of the Olympic gold medal-winning 4x400m in Tokyo, and in addition to a potential 800-1500 double, Kersee wants Mu in consideration for 4x400m again, as well as the mixed 4x400m relay.
What happens next:
– No announcement has been made about whether Mu will race before the U.S. Championships. She currently does not have a time qualifier for the 1500m at the U.S. Championships.
– The auto qualifier for the 1500m is 4:05.00, a mark that only seven women have currently hit within the qualifying window. 36th on the descending order list right now (the desired field size for the event) is 4:14.49.
What we think:
One interesting thing that Kersee mentioned to the OC Register is that fans shouldn’t expect to see McLaughlin-Levrone and Mu go head-to-head in any race. When McLaughlin was asked about training with Mu in February, she noted that Kersee is keeping them separate at the moment. He’s shifting Mu up a distance for USAs while McLaughlin-Levrone focuses on the flat 400m.
Mu hasn’t raced a 1500m since her 2021 outdoor season opener at the Texas Relays, when she was still repping Texas A&M. She ran 4:16.06 – still her personal best in the event. The only other examples we’ve seen of her stepping up in distance were a 4:37.99 indoor mile in Jan. 2022 and a DNF with a lap to go at the 2022 Millrose Games. Nothing earth-shattering that immediately throws her into the gold medal conversation for 2024.
Has Faith Kipyegon’s name slipped Kersee’s mind? The Kenyan Olympic and world champion is still in the prime of her career at 29 years old. She hasn’t lost a 1500m race since June 10, 2021, and is riding an 11-race winning streak. Given how strong she’s looked to start 2023 – a 3:58.57 showing in Doha – that streak may very well carry over into 2024.
I don’t think Kersee has ever coached an elite 1500-meter runner so I’d be interested in seeing how this shakes out. He certainly has less direct experience with the event than, say, the long sprints. Distance fans love to speculate over half-milers theoretical 1500m chops, but when we clamor for Ajee’ Wilson to shift her focus full-time to the 1500m, it comes from a place with a bit more context.
Wilson ran 4:05.18 in 2018, which often gets overlooked because it happened during an off-year. (Wilson is quietly riding a 10-race winning streak in the 1500m that goes back to 2013 - but all of the races occurred in April or May at relatively low-key meets.)
Then there’s the fact that Wilson’s personal best for the 400m is only 53.63. We know she comes at the 800m from more of a strength side – hence her success when sliding up in distance – whereas it feels like the opposite with Mu, who’s a 49.57 woman and the former NCAA record holder over 400m.
Ultimately, I think it’s wise to remember that Mu is only about to turn 21. She’s just scratching the surface of her potential in whatever event she focuses on, and she’s a generational talent who’s already managed to accomplish virtually everything a professional 800m runner could dream of in the event. It’s also possible that, rather than seriously considering the 1500m as a medal path for Mu, Kersee is just trying to throw new and interesting challenges at his young star to keep things interesting for her over the next few seasons. She has a very strong chance of breaking the 800 meter world record eventually with competitors like 21-year-old Keely Hodgkinson and 22-year-old Mary Moraa pushing her, so if this 1500m testing is a step toward that, I can get behind it.
That said, I’m still a ways away from jumping on the ‘Athing Mu Is A 1500m Gold Medal Contender’ train.
Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.