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Athing Mu to miss Olympics after heartbreaking fall at trials

EUGENE, Ore. — Asing Mu got tangled up in the middle of the truck and began to fall. One hand hit the ground, then the other. As she rolled onto her back, her bright pink shoes began to point toward the sky.

The loss ended one of America’s most promising runners’ hopes of winning back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the 800 meters, but it also provided sports fans with a reminder of just how grueling the U.S. track and field trials can be.

Asing Mu falls in a group of runners at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Craig Strobeck – USA TODAY Sports

The 22-year-old New Jersey native was the first big-name casualty of Monday’s qualifying rounds, falling victim to a tight pack on the backstretch of the first lap, despite a long-standing U.S. rule that only the top three qualifiers qualify for the Olympics, regardless of background.

“I’ve coached it, I’ve preached it, I’ve seen it,” MU coach Bobby Kersey told The Associated Press, “and this is just another proof that no matter how good we are, we can leave better players back home than other countries. That’s the way we are as Americans.”

Mu protested, and USA Track and Field officials reviewed replays late into the night before ultimately rejecting the protest. Kersey said Mu had been stabbed by the cleats, burned on the track and injured her ankle.

“She’ll be nursing for a few days,” Carthy said.

Asing Mu is upset after the race. Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports

Mu got up and finished, more than 22 seconds behind winner Nia Akins, who finished in 1 minute 57.36 seconds. After the race, Mu hurried off the track and through the tunnel, holding back tears. She declined to be interviewed.

She was running on the outside of a tight pack and appeared to be making her way left towards eventual third-place finisher Juliet Whittaker, but stumbled and fell, leaving the three runners behind her floundering and jumping over and around her.

Mu is not the first athlete to experience something like this: One of the most memorable and heartbreaking moments in track and field occurred eight years ago at this same event, when Alicia Montano, who was trying to return to the Olympics, stumbled in the final straight, collapsed to the ground and cried.

Asing Mu was the previous gold medalist. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

“I feel a bit like a mama bear,” says Montano, who is at the track this week doing an in-house interview over the PA system, “but the racing is brutal at times. It’s two close laps and everyone’s trying desperately to figure out where they’re going to be.”

The Olympic Trials was Mu’s first competition of the year after she was plagued by injury all season. She looked strong in the first two rounds and Carthy said her season was going well.

But in the 800m final, she barely completed half a lap.

Despite her fall, Mu still has a shot at making it to Paris as a member of the U.S. relay team after playing a key role in the team’s gold medal win in the 4x400m relay in Tokyo three years ago.

Mu, who won NCAA, national, world and Olympic championships before turning 21 and won a bronze medal at last year’s world championships, acknowledged afterward that she needed to get away from the pressure, social media and other demands that come with being one of track and field’s rising stars.

Ating Mu was eliminated in the qualifying rounds and will therefore miss out on the Olympics. NBC Sports/X

In an interview ahead of this week’s tournament in Eugene, she said she has rediscovered her love for the sport and is looking forward to the challenge of becoming a back-to-back champion.

Her long, relaxed stride was a factor in her success over this distance, but it may have also cost her the race in which she was the favorite to win.

“I heard that and I just thought, ‘OK, keep going. It’s not you,'” runner-up Allie Wilson said of the commotion that led to Mu’s fall. “Unfortunately, it’s part of racing. These things happen.”