Athing Mu on her way to winning the 400m at the NCAA Championships (© Kirby Lee)
US teenager Athing Mu wrapped up her 2021 collegiate season with a pair of record-breaking performances on the final day of the NCAA Championships in Eugene on Saturday (12).
The Texas A&M student, who is undefeated outdoors over 400m and 800m this year, opted to focus on the shorter event in Eugene. After a comfortable 51.04 heat victory on Thursday, she dominated the final and won by more than a second, breaking her own collegiate and North American U20 record with 49.57.
Fellow U20 runner Talitha Diggs, representing the University of Florida, finished second in 50.74, while Canada’s Kyra Constantine of USC was third in 50.87.
“I’m really happy to win; I’ve been dying to have the 400m title since the indoor season,” said Mu, whose only loss this year came at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Just 80 minutes after winning the individual 400m title, Mu teamed up with Tierra Robinson-Jones, Charokee Young and Jaevin Reed to win the 4x400m in a collegiate record of 3:22.34. Mu’s anchor leg of 48.84 is the fastest split ever recorded at the NCAA Championships.
“It’s amazing,” said Mu. When we checked in, I said, ‘we’re going to get the collegiate record’ so we knew it was coming.”
Mu, who turned 19 earlier this week, will now turn her attention to the US Olympic Trials, where she’ll be among the leading contenders over 800m, having clocked a North American U20 record of 1:57.73 earlier this year.
“I’m glad to be moving back to ‘my’ race (the 800m) for the trials,” she said. “I just want to go out there and try my best and hopefully make the team.”
Mu was one of three women to win two titles on Saturday.
Cambrea Sturgis of North Carolina A&T State University produced the performances of her life to win the 100m and 200m double. She blasted out of the blocks in the 100m and, despite the best efforts of USA’s Twanisha Terry, could not be caught, flying to a marginally wind-assisted 10.74 (2.2m/s). Terry, the world U20 silver medallist, was second in10.79 while Tamara Clark (10.88) and Kemba Nelson (10.90) were next across the line.
Clark was Sturgis’s toughest opposition in the 200m. Clark, a student at the University of Alabama, got off to a strong start and was slightly ahead of Sturgis as they came off the bend. But the diminutive Sturgis, drawn two lanes outside of Clark, clawed back the deficit in the closing stages and crossed the line in a lifetime best of 22.12 (0.2m/s). Clark was second in 22.17 while Anavia Battle of Ohio State was third (22.42).
Anna Cockrell, the 2016 world U20 400m hurdles champion, became just the second woman in collegiate history to win the hurdles double at the NCAA Championships. She took the 100m hurdles title in 12.58 (0.4m/s) after setting a PB of 12.54 in the heats. Collegiate leader Tonea Marshall ran 12.48 in the heats but withdrew from the final.
Just 45 minutes later, Cockrell was back on track for the 400m hurdles. The USC student ran a controlled race and negotiated the barriers well, cruising to a 54.68 PB to win by more than a second. Arizona’s Shannon Meisberger took the runner-up spot in 55.70.
Texas A&M’s Tyra Gittens secured a full set of medals. The all-rounder from Trinidad and Tobago had placed second in the long jump on Thursday, then went on to dominate the heptathlon on Friday and Saturday, winning with 6285 to beat Miami’s Michelle Atherley by 218 points.
In between the last two disciplines of the heptathlon, Gittens contested the high jump and finished third with 1.87m in a competition won by Rachel Glenn with 1.93m.
The women’s steeplechase proved to be one of the closest and most exciting races of the championships. Mahala Norris of the Air Force Academy was in third place as she approached the final barrier. Despite losing some momentum, she managed to regain her stride to outkick Auburn's Joyce Kimeli and Washington's Katie Rainsberger to win in a big PB of 9:31.79. Kimeli finished just 0.05 behind with Rainsberger taking third in 9:32.12.
Elsewhere, Dutch thrower Jorinde van Klinken, representing Arizona State, won the discus with a final-round throw of 65.01m, breaking the championship record in the process. And North Carolina State’s Elly Henes won the 5000m in 15:28.05, 30 years after her mother and coach Laurie won the title.
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics