Athing Mu and Tadese Worku
As the countdown to the World Athletics Awards 2021 continues, we shine a spotlight on the five women and five men who have been nominated for this year’s Rising Star awards.
The winners will be selected by an international panel of experts and be announced live at the World Athletics Awards 2021 on 1 December.
Athing Mu has this year earned the rare honour of being nominated for both the main Athlete of the Year award and the Rising Star award.
Both nominations are more than justified too, because not only has the US runner been one of the leading U20 athletes in the world, she has also dominated the 800m on the senior international stage.
As she has done in previous years, Mu split her focus between the 400m and 800m this year. She set an indoor 400m best of 50.52, an outright PB at the time, then three weeks later set a world U20 indoor record of 1:58.40 for 800m.
Her stunning form continued outdoors and in her first race of the season she clocked an 800m PB of 1:57.73, breaking the North American U20 record. She broke three continental U20 records over 400m, clocking 49.84 and 49.68 before her 49.57 victory at the NCAA Championships.
After that, she focused exclusively on the 800m. Just three weeks after turning 19, she won the US Trials in a world-leading 1:56.07 to book her place on the Olympic team. But despite heading to Tokyo as the world leader in her event, there was some hesitation over her status as a gold medal favourite, given her young age, relative inexperience at the senior level, and the fact she had endured a long collegiate season.
There was no need to worry, though, as Mu dominated the two-lap event to win in 1:55.21, breaking the senior US record. She added another gold medal to her collection in the 4x400m, anchoring the US team to victory in 3:16.85 and producing the fastest split of the race with 48.32.
“I’m accomplishing all the crazy things,” said Mu. “Being an Olympic gold medallist, that’s insane. But I knew this is where I was supposed to be at this point in time. I knew this was definitely possible.”
She capped her season with a world-leading 1:55.04 win at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Eugene, improving on her own US record. By that point, she had won 35 of her 36 races throughout the year, set 24 PBs (seven indoors, 17 outdoors, including relays), broke one world U20 record, one senior national record, and eight area U20 records.
Ethiopia’s Tadese Worku was one of the standout performers at the World U20 Championships Nairobi 21, emerging from the Kenyan capital with a gold and a silver medal.
He almost pulled off an ambitious distance double within the space of 24 hours. On the opening day of the championships he comfortably won the 3000m in 7:42.09, finishing two-and-a-half seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Despite Nairobi’s altitude – not at all conducive to fast times in distance races – Worku’s winning time broke the championship record.
The next day, Worku was back on track for the 5000m. In a frantic final sprint for the line, Worku was narrowly beaten by Benson Kiplangat as the Kenyan finished 0.28 ahead to take gold.
Outside of the major U20 event of the year, Worku featured prominently on the international racing circuit. He set an indoor 3000m PB of 7:41.06 in Lievin and reduced his outdoor best for the distance to 7:34.75 when finishing second to world champion Muktar Edris in Szekesfehervar. He also won over the distance in Chorzow, beating Olympic steeplechase champion Soufiane El Bakkali.
He excelled over longer distances too, clocking a PB of 26:58.30 over 10,000m in Hengelo, narrowly missing out on making Ethiopia’s Olympic team at their hotly contested trials and moving to sixth on the world U20 all-time list.
Worku capped his season with a 26:56 national U20 record for 10km on the roads, moving to second on the world U20 all-time list. He ends the year with world U20 leading marks for 3000m indoors and outdoors, as well as for 10,000m and 10km.