Athing Mu, photo by Kevin Morris / @kevmofoto
In this piece, Deji Ogeyingbo discusses the high quality of Rising stars Athing Mu and Erriyon Knighton, and how exciting the future looks for our sport! Athing Mu was fearless in Eugene, Tokyo and Eugene again! Athing raced 21 times in 2021, both indoors and outdoors, from 400m to 600m to 800m, and a dozen 4x400m relays! Erriyon was exciting in Eugene and Tokyo! Knighton ran 3 times at the 100m distance this season and eleven times at the 200m distance.
Erriyon Knighton, photo by Kevin Morris / @kevmofoto
Rising Stars winners Athing Mu and Erriyon Knighton show future of athletics is in great hands
The world athletics rising star award has been around for a while now and It’s one that rewards athletes under the age of 21 for their raw and unbridled talent while also ensuring that they become the cynosure of the athletics world going into the future.
Some of the names that have gone on to win it in the past like Sydney McLaughlin, Karsten Warlom, Mondo Duplantis have lived up to the hype and even nicked the main awards as senior athletes. It is also worth noting that some other names that get nominated mostly live up to the hype in their careers. However, this year’s winners in USA’s Athing Mu and Erriyon Knighton are nothing but special and their achievements this year show that the future of track and field is in great hands.
Mu solidified her credential as one of the next generations of Olympic greats after her phenomenal display in Tokyo, a result that made lots of observers salivate at what she has in store going into subsequent seasons considering she’s just only nineteen. NCAA records, American records, US Titles, and Olympic medals, Mu couldn’t have asked for a better 2021.
For athletics buffs, the train of record collection and titles started two years back when she broke the American women’s record at the 600-meter event (which is not an Olympic event) at the 2019 USA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Her time of 1:23.57 is just .13 seconds off of the world record. That in itself was massive for a 17-year-old as people began to take notice.
Although Mu ran outside the two min mark for the 800m, it was not until this year she began to stamp her authority over the two-lap distance. Her Indoor season started off with a blast as she romped to an indoor collegiate and world under-20 record with a time of 1:58.40. She also set an indoor 400m best of 50.52
From there on, Mu began to dominate the 400m and 800m on the senior international stage. In her first race of the season, she clocked an 800m PB of 1:57.73, breaking the North American U20 record. She broke three continental U20 records over 400m, clocking 49.84 and 49.68 before her 49.57 victories at the NCAA Championships.
Despite holding the fastest time by an American over the 400m, she opted not to race over the distance at the Olympics, but focus on the 800m and 4x400m. That move paid dividends as Mu qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a time of 1:56.07, the world-leading time and the second-fastest time in American history.
Mu dominated during the prelims and semifinals, and in the final, she put up a performance for the ages as won the 800m with a dominant American record-breaking 1:55.21, and then went on to anchor Team USA’s 4x400m relay with a time of 3:16.85.
Mu ran a 48.32 final leg split, the fastest split of anyone in the race, and is undefeated since turning professional earlier in the summer. The teenager improved in her record at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Eugene where she clocked a world-leading 1:55.04.
If you thought what Mu did at 19 was special, her US compatriot, Knighton was in a league of his own at just 17 as he took the sprinting world by storm. Perhaps his biggest achievement this year came in the span of 30 days when he obliterated two separate world records from the great Usain Bolt.
When Bolt ran 20.13 as a Youth and 19.93 as a Junior over 15 years ago, we all knew sprinting was going to get to another level if he eventually reached his peak. That he did. Now, look at those numbers and imagine another athlete lowering both marks at 17. Yes, Knighton reached limits that no human had done over the 200m at such age.
The first record he attacked came in late May when he ran 20.11s to barely improve on Bolt’s World Records. Just about a month later, Knighton returned to the track at the keenly contest US trials and knowing that a spot to Tokyo was far-fetched with the likes of the more established Noah Lyles and Kenny Bednarek in the form of their life.
That didn’t deter Knighton as he lowered his world youth record down to 20.04s. That display was rather made more impressive as he looked like he broke no sweat. The teenager took it a notch higher in the semis as he blazed to a new World Junior record of 19.88s, defeating Noah Lyles. Before that day, no junior athlete had ever run inside 20 seconds as the last athlete to do so was Bolt.
Going into the finals, Knighton was now seen as a contender for the title. He however came up short, placing 3rd in 19.84s. Notwithstanding, he still made the Olympic roaster to Tokyo. For an athlete that played Football just three years ago, his rise has been phenomenal.
After becoming the youngest athlete to qualify to represent the United States in track and field since Jim Ryun in 1964 he won his heat and semifinal in respective times of 20.55 and 20.02 before running 19.93 in the final to finish behind only Canada’s Andre De Grasse and his US teammates Kenny Bednarek and Noah Lyles.
Both Mu and Knighton reached heights most top athletes at the peak of their career can only dream of and considering they both haven’t clocked 20 yet, we are certainly in for something special in the coming years.