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Another 800m fall leads to heartbreak at Olympic Track and Field Trials

EUGENE, Oregon — A runner has fallen in the women’s 800m final at three consecutive U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. This one was the most seismic of all.

Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Athing Mu tripped about 200 meters into the last race on Monday night’s schedule.

She was moving toward the inside of lane two in a crowded pack. Mu turned her head toward the infield, and on her next stride lost her balance.

Her coach, Bobby Kersee, said Mu got clipped by another runner from behind, according to The Associated Press.

TRACK AND FIELD TRIALS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Within a second and a half, several runners weaved around the falling Mu, who ended up on her back on the Hayward Field track.

She lost more than three seconds before getting on her feet. She closed to within 2.59 seconds of the lead by 400 meters, but the gap was too much.

Mu faded on the backstretch and jogged the last 100 meters. She finished 22.33 seconds after winner Nia Akins.

In Tokyo, Mu won the 800m in American record time. At 19, she became the youngest U.S. woman to win individual Olympic track and field gold since Wyomia Tyus in the 100m at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

In 2022, Mu won the world title in Eugene. She became the youngest woman in history to own Olympic and world titles in an individual track and field event.

In 2023, Mu took bronze at worlds after contemplating skipping the meet. She said she was “going through a lot” that year and hadn’t had a break from the sport in two years.

Three weeks after that, Mu lowered her American record in what turned out to be her last race before Olympic Trials.

“Just happy with the fact that I could come out and could actually be happy and enjoy what I’m doing,” she said that day.

Mu said after winning her semifinal on Sunday that she had sustained a hamstring injury in late April and returned to running two weeks before trials.

Come Paris, a new Olympic women’s 800m champion will be crowned.

Akins repeated as U.S. 800m champion and qualified for her first Olympics. Runner-up Allie Wilson and third-place finisher Juliette Whittaker will also be Olympic rookies.

Three years ago, Akins and Mu made contact about 175 meters into the Olympic Trials final. Mu briefly stumbled, yet still ran a personal best and easily won. Akins fell and finished last.

“The sport is just crazy and unpredictable and tough,” Akins said Monday night. “Nobody deserves that. (Mu) didn’t deserve that today. I didn’t deserve it three years ago.

“I wouldn’t be here today without that happening to me then. Honestly, it took me a while, but I’m super grateful for it. I learned a lot from it.”

The 800m is the shortest race that is run in a pack rather than individual lanes for each runner (though the runners start in lanes).

It lends itself to chaos, which is becoming commonplace at the trials.

In 2016, Alysia Montaño and Brenda Martinez, each a world championship medalist, made contact with 150 meters left. Montaño fell. They finished in the last two spots.

Wilson, 28, made the team after leaving the Atlanta Track Club in January to follow her coaches to Indiana. After the move, she briefly worked as a nanny in between sponsorship deals.

Wilson was sixth in the Tokyo Olympic Trials, fourth at the 2022 USATF Outdoor Championships and eliminated in the semifinals at last year’s nationals.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years, and I learned from them,” she said. “I applied every single one of those lessons into my race today, and it finally all came together.”

In 2023, a tiring Whittaker fell on her own with about 10 meters left in the semifinals at USATF Outdoors.

“After that fall, I remember going home,” Whittaker, a rising Stanford junior, said Monday night. “I was heartbroken and so sad. But I was like, next year, I’m making that team.”