Cathal Dennehy wrote this piece on the exciting rivalry between Athing Mu and Keely Hodgkinson, which will take center stage on Sunday night, August 27, 2023.
It’s time to find out. Thirteen months on from their last meeting, Athing Mu and Keely Hodgkinson are, at long last, back on a collision course. The meeting the middle-distance world has awaited will happen at 8.45pm in Budapest on Sunday, and it should be a fitting finale to what’s been, to date, a magnificent World Championships.
Mu and Hodgkinson are the Coe and Ovett of the current era, two middle-distance greats who’ve made a habit of only clashing on the big stage when it matters most. They have towered over the event for the past two years, rising to the top of the world while still in their teens – winning gold and silver at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 when they were both just 19.
Hodgkinson has been out there this year, racing on the Diamond League circuit. Mu has not, racing at just two events this summer: a 1:58.73 800m win in New York in June, followed by a runner-up finish at the US Championships over 1500m in July.
What’s her current fitness? No one really knows.
But Mu looked back to her effortless, brilliant best in her 800m heat on Wednesday morning, cruising through 400m in 58 seconds before holding off Natoya Goule-Topping to take victory in a relaxed 1:59.59. Mu took to the track wearing bedazzled Nike spikes, and in her swift trip through the mixed zone – she did not stop to talk – she smiled and said “none of the above” when asked by Kyle Merber of Citius Mag if that had been the work of her or her sponsor, Nike.
This brings us to a key point about Mu, who has sometimes shown more desire to pursue a career in modeling than staying at the top of the track world. Her participation in Budapest was in doubt right up until this week, with her coach, Bobby Kersee, telling the LA Times a few weeks ago: “It’s in our control if we decide we’re just going to go ahead and train through this year and focus on next year, then that’s what we’re going to do. The training is going well, but our thought process, openly, is that we’re going to just train here in L.A. for the next two weeks, and the next time she gets on the plane, it’ll either be on…