Alfonso Jennings couldn’t sleep Monday night into Tuesday morning. The excitement of two reoccurring dreams kept him awake and eventually pulled him out of bed at 4 a.m.
In his dreams, Athing Mu, one of the track athletes that he coached at the Trenton Track Club, leaned across the finish line to beat out her competitors for first place in the women’s 800 meter at the Tokyo Olympics. In another moment, she was on the podium, accepting her gold medal.
One of Jennings dreams came true.
Mu, a former Texas A&M middle-distance runner, took Olympic gold in the 800 on Tuesday, setting an American record with a time of 1 minute, 55.21 seconds. Keely Hodgkinson of Great Britain was second in 1:55.88.
“It’s miraculous and hard to believe and I’m overjoyed,” said Jennings, who mentored Mu through club track for the majority of her young life in Trenton, N.J. “It’s just a lot of emotions going through my mind, because you very rarely get a chance to see what you’ve done come to fruition.”
It was the first time an American woman won the event since Madeline Manning in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Mu, 19, is the first female Aggie to win an individual gold medal.
“It’s awesome. I feel like I’ve just accomplished one of my goals,” Mu told reporters in Japan. “I just wanted to be a medalist. I wasn’t really putting gold on that, but as it got closer to the final today, I was like, ‘Yeah, we want gold.’ It’s an accomplishment that I wanted off my list.”
Mu was the wire-to-wire leader of the race under the lights of the Olympic Stadium, pulling well ahead of Hodgkinson in the final 100 meters. American Raevyn Rogers, a Houston native, took third.
Staying ahead of the pack is a strategy Mu first learned under Jennings, he said. With naturally long legs, Jennings said they worried she could get tangled should she fall back into the pack and possibly trip. It came close to happening in her first race at the Olympics, which she won with a time of 2:01.10.
In her next two races, Mu jumped out to the head of the group and coasted to a 1:58.07 win in the semifinals and her record-breaking finish in the finals.
While the strategy makes sense theoretically, it’s much easier said than done, A&M head track & field coach Pat Henry said.
“It’s really hard, because everyone thinks that they just have to follow you. What she has going for her is, not many ladies are willing to come through at 57 or low 58 seconds at 400 meters. When you get over to that back straight away, you are going to feel terrible, if you go that hard. The third 200 meters, she’s still running hard.”
Mu’s previous best in the 800 was the time of 1:56.07 she ran during the U.S. Olympic Trials in February. Her best college time in the event was 1:57.73, set at the Baylor Michael Johnson Invitational in April.
She finished her one-year college career with collegiate records in the outdoor 400-meter (49.57), the outdoor 800, the indoor 600 (1:25.80) and the indoor 800 (1:58.40). She was also apart of the No. 1 outdoor 4x400 team, running a 48.85 split time as the anchor.
In her time at A&M, she shaved more than five seconds off her 800 time, which Henry says is a testament to her work ethic and the value a year of college athletics can give to even the best athlete. Mu announced she would forego the remainder of her college career and become pro before the trials.
Henry also believes that Mu can continue to attract some of the nation’s top track talent to College Station moving forward, especially if Nike should push her front and center leading into the 2024 Olympic Games.
At Trenton Central High School, Mu’s former National Honor Society advisor Kathy Mulcahey gathered around a screen with many of Mu’s friends and former teachers to watch her to achieve her dreams.
Mulcahey said because of Mu there are plenty more in Trenton that know something else about A&M and will have even more interest in the sport of track.
“She comes across as someone so genuine and easy going,” Mulcahey said. “To see her cross the line and that smile, what I kept thinking was, ‘God bless you, at the age of 19, the best is yet to come.’”
NOTES — Former Texas A&M guard Khris Middleton and Team USA beat Spain 95-81 in the men’s basketball quarterfinals on Tuesday at the Tokyo Olympics. Middleton had two points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal. USA will face Australia in the semifinals at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Aggie Lindon Victor is in seventh place with 2,620 points in the men’s decathlon. Victor, who is competing for Grenada, placed first in his heat in the 100-meter race with a time of 10.67 seconds, placed third in the shot put with a throw of 15.39 meters and placed eighth in long jump (7.24 meters).
USA’s Annie Kunz is in 14th place with 2,030 points at the women’s heptathlon. She tied for seventh in the high jump with a mark of 1.80 meters and placed seventh in her heat in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 13.49.
On Wednesday, Aggie Alais Kalonji will compete in the 10-meter platform in women’s diving for France at 1 a.m.; Kunz will compete for the U.S. in the women’s heptathlon shot put (5:05 a.m), 200 (6:30 a.m.), long jump (7:40 p.m) and javelin (10:30 p.m.); Algeria’s Tahar Triki will compete in the men’s triple jump at 9 p.m.; Ghana’s Emmanuel Yeboah will compete in the 4x100 men’s relay at 9:30 p.m.; Victor will compete in six decathlon events, including high jump (4:30 a.m.), 400 (7:30 a.m.), 110 hurdles (7 p.m.), javelin (7:15 p.m.), discus (7:50 p.m.) and pole vault (10:45 p.m.).