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Athing Mu from Trenton cannot defend Olympic gold after surprise fall at US trials

Athing Mu jogged across the finish line in tears.

Three years after her smiling face and brilliant speed made her one of the breakout stars of the Olympics, the Trenton native will not be able to defend her gold medal in Paris next month after a surprise fall in the U.S. qualifying competitions on Monday night.

Mu had completed the first two turns of the 800-meter race when her legs appeared to tangle with those of another competitor. She was the only runner to fall onto the track, and although she managed to get back on her feet and keep running, she was too far off the pace to close the gap on the field.

“I think we're dreaming,” winner Nia Akins told NBC. “I'm speechless.”

ā€œIā€™m so confused right now,ā€ said runner-up Allie Wilson.

It is a devastating loss for Mu, who as a 19-year-old carried all of Mercer County on her shoulders when she became the first American woman since 1968 to win the 800 meters, breaking the American record in the process.

She then won a second gold medal in the 4×400 relay with another New Jersey star, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone. Mu was the newest star in track and field.

Her no-nonsense personality won her a legion of new fans ā€“ and they even learned how to pronounce her name. (It is uh-DING, moe.) Trenton held a parade in her honor, with hundreds of fans coming to celebrate one of the greatest achievements by a female athlete from the city.

The three years since have not always been smooth sailing. Mu has battled injuries and admitted in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated that the pressures of life as a professional athlete have taken a lot of the joy out of running.

“There are so many fans here supporting me… a lot of people like to watch me run,” she said last week. “I feel a little bit more pressure because I know other people are looking at what I'm doing to reflect how they're doing in their careers. With that in mind, I just always want to make sure I'm doing my best.”

She made it through the semifinals with the fastest time, but in the often cruel Olympic trials, it's what you do in the final that counts. Mu's unthinkable fall means she'll have to wait four years for her next chance at Olympic glory.

But for one New Jersey track and field community, the crisis has also brought silver linings. Wilson, 28, a record-holding runner at Monmouth University, will now get her chance to run in the Olympics after her groundbreaking performance.

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You can reach Steve Politi at spoliti@njadvancemedia.com.

Anna Harden

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