A couple of days ago, we linked to a Sports Illustrated story featuring the defending women’s 800-meter champion, Athing Mu. It was to have been the cover story for SI’s Olympic preview issue.

Well, in a stunning development seemingly confirming a long-time jinx on people appearing on the cover of the sports magazine, Athing Mu finished 22 seconds off the pace in the final, having collided with one of her competitors during the first lap, falling down and being unable to close the gap.

In the United States, the Olympic Trials are literally the survival of the fittest: only the top runners in the event final make the team. There are no outside selectors, no politics, no second chances.

It’s a cruel turn of events, certainly.

But it’s also an outcome for the specialization that has come into track events the last couple of decades. Time was, a runner like Mu would be in multiple events, depending on how good they time out in different distances. Athletes like Emil Zatopek (5K, 10K, marathon), Alberto Juantorena (400m, 800m), and Paavo Nurmi (1500m, 5K, 10k) won gold in multiple disciplines.

Mu, as an 800-meter specialist, doesn’t have a fallback. At least for Paris.

I hope she comes back stronger in four years, when the Olympics are in Los Angeles.


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