Stuart Weir wrote this piece on the yearly battle for global 800m supremacy between Athing Mu of the US and Keely Hodgkinson of Great Britain, this year held at the World Athletics Champs in Eugene, Oregon on June 24, 2022.
Déjà vu all over again!
Almost a year ago, I sat in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium watching a women’s 800-meter race. Athing Mu won, and Keely Hodgkinson was second. In Oregon 2022, I saw a women’s 800-meter race. Athing Mu won, and Keely Hodgkinson was second. But the similarities end there. Only four of the Tokyo field survived to contest the Oregon final – the first two-plus Natoya Goule and Raevyn Rogers. In Tokyo, Mu ran 1:55.21, and in Oregon, 1:56.30.
Mu dominated both races, leading early and holding the lead. In Tokyo, she was never threatened with Hodgkinson and Rogers making late runs to snatch their medals. In Oregon, Hodgkinson tracked Mu more carefully and for a few seconds on the home straight looked as if she might overtake her. The gap between the first two was 0.33 seconds. In Oregon just 0.08.
In Tokyo, Natoya Goule ran1:58.26 and finished last! Yes, 1:58.26 and last! In Tokyo, Raevyn Rogers, as she had in Doha, made a late home-straight dash to get in the medals. There was no late surge and no medal for Oregon Duck, whose image is on the stadium tower.
2021 was Hodgkinson’s first senior season. In fact, it was not even supposed to be that. World Juniors was initially her year’s goal. From a fast indoor 800 in January (1:59.03), aged just 18, she ended 2021 as a European Indoor champion, Diamond League champion, and Olympic silver medalist. She had arrived. In 2021 Mu won the US Champs in 1:56.07, won the Olympics, and won Pre.
In 2022 Hodgkinson was selected for the GB team to the World Indoors but pulled out the day before she was due to run. She was not required to run in the GB trials, having a wild-card as a Diamond League winner. She ran the 400 instead. She won the 800 in Diamond Leagues in Pre, Oslo, and Birmingham and came second behind Mary Moraa in Stockholm. In 2022, Mu won the Golden Gala in Rome and ran three rounds of US Champs and one other 800. That the Worlds were early meant that the two favorites entered the World Championship with fewer races behind them than would normally be the case.
The pair produced an epic battle and were separated by only 0.08 seconds. Mary Moraa, just 22, showed that she is a force to be reckoned with, taking third. Raevyn Rogers, having medaled at the Olympics and previous world championships will be disappointed, as will Ajee Wilson, World Indoor champion this year. For Natoya Goule, it was another solid performance but still no global medal.
This is how the athletes saw the race:
Winner – Athing MU, USA
“It was a fast competition. I love competing against other fast women. I really just wanted to be consistent this year and to continue with the wins that I have been having. Today, it was a little bit harder for me, but I wanted to make sure that when I came on the track, I just do my best. The next goal is just to continue competing and, hopefully, to get faster and faster. I feel like this year, and a half has gone so far. I’ve gone through so many changes, some many adjusting. This year was a whole lot of adjustments. Not everyone may see it. It was a lot. Coming here and winning means a lot to me because I know what I have been going through the whole entire year. Being able to stand my ground after some major accomplishments last year”.
Second Keely Hodgkinson
“I’m satisfied but not overjoyed. I’m a little disappointed that I missed out on gold by 0.08, which is a tiny margin that I’ve worked so hard to close, but I’ll take the positives. I’ve closed the gap; I’m getting closer. I’ve got a lot of respect for these athletes, particularly Athing (Mu). She’s competing in front of a home crowd as Olympic champion, so there was a lot of pressure for a 20-year-old. But I’ll take the silver and assess it.
“I tried to take the shortest route. I don’t regret it because I could have wasted a lot of energy by moving out and going around her. I just thought I’d try to sneak down the inside. I knew it would come down to the last 50m, so it was just a case of holding form and seeing what was left. We’ve worked so hard over the winter to close that gap with Athing. It has paid off; I can’t say it hasn’t”.
Third – Mary MORAA, KEN
“I am so happy to perform like this today and, of course, to win a medal. This is a very special achievement for me and my village. The race was tough, but I tried to push myself to finish like this. I gained my limits, like 200m to go, and I saw the girls in front of me. But then I decided to close the gap and move forward. Like 100m to go, they tried to push hard, but I also did it. I pushed myself until the finish to take bronze, and I am so happy about it. The last sprint was very tough – the last 70m, I saw I cannot get enough speed to get further, just focusing on the front runners.”
5th – Natoya GOULE, JAM
“I think this is the fastest final ever at World Championships. I wanted a medal. I am pleased because of the season’s best. I have a lot left to put out there. The plan was to get out of my comfort zone, but the way these girls were moving, it was hard to get there. I don’t know. Maybe because I was in an outside lane and was trying to go down. I was trying to get into fourth, but it was impossible. I am actually pleased. The next goal is Commonwealth Games, and I want to improve from the bronze medal. The girls today are very talented. I am happy to be in my third World Championships final.”
6th – Raevyn ROGERS, USA
“This was one of those races when you just take what it is. It is still a great moment for America. Still a great moment for the team – winning the first world champs for the USA. I think it is a great time to celebrate her. I felt really comfortable about the race. It was a great competition. You need to learn from it even if you are losing. Now, it is time to get back to work. At this moment, I just do not remember the race, but I had the feeling I was in a position where I needed to be.”
Women – 800 metres
Statistical Summary from World Athletics
Athing Mu (USA) won the 800 meters in the 2022 world-leading time of 1:56.30, adding the World Championship to her Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medal in the event.
This was the 1st gold medal for the United States in the women’s 800 meters, although it was their 7th medal in the event, which leads the medal table.
Keely Hodgkinson of Great Britain was 2nd, winning her nation’s 2nd silver medal in the event, after Kelly Holmes in 2003. It was also the 4th medal for Great Britain in the women’s 800 and they are first since Jenny Meadows’ bronze in 2009.
Mary Moraa came home in a personal best of 1:56.71 to take bronze, giving Kenya 6 medals in the event, but their 1st since 2015.
All 3 medalists bettered the 2022 world leader (Mu at 1:57.01), moving them to 1-2-3 on the 2022 world list.