DAY 5 BLOG
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
EUGENE, OREGON - The name on his birth certificate reads King Alfonso Jennings
but no one who has known this man in his 75 years on this planet has ever accused him
of assuming regal airs.
He's just "Al" to those of a track and field inclination and he's perfectly all right
with that two-letter appellation.
Al Jennings has been coaching track and field for at least a half-century and anyone who has followed
the continuing excellence of his teams from the New Jersey capital city knows the wonders this
man has done. His Trenton Central High School runners have been duking it out with the best for
a long, long time and Trenton fans have forever appreciated all the hardware his illustrious teams have brought home
from meets everywhere - the New Jersey state circuit, the Penn Relays, the high school Nationals,
etc, etc etc.
But he stepped away from the Trenton Central post a few years ago for a very good reason - Trenton had produced a very special athlete who needed his personal attention.
Her name is Athing Mu - and the Mu is pronounced as "Moe." She marked her 19th birthday on June 8 and if she's not running in the Tokyo Olympic Games next month a lot of track experts will be genuinely shocked.
A newly-signed Nike contract professional - the terms are said to be extremely lucrative - she has said goodbye to college track after a single dazzling year at Texas A&M and is now free to run the world circuit
without paying attention to collegiate priorities.
And now - after winning everything in sight on the NCAA level - she's off and running in the Olympic Trials and just two more big races away from clinching the Tokyo trip. Coming into the Trials armed with a 1:57.73 PB (personal best) which is also an NCAA record and better than the Olympic Games qualifying standard, she sizzled in Thursday's opening round of the women's 800.
Strolling home in 2:00.69, she advanced into Friday's semifinals, which will determine the entries in Sunday's eight-runner final. But nothing is ever certain on this level and Ms. Mu is surely aware that clinching the Tokyo trip will not be easy.
It so happens that two of the best women's 800-meter runners in the world hail from hometowns just some
40 miles apart. It's Ajee' Wilson - a product of Neptune, N.J., a town located just a county away from Trenton, and a town that's the owner a proud track tradition, too - who now looms directly in Mo's upcoming path,
An 11-time National champion, 2016 Rio Olympic semfinalist and world ranked-number one of 2019,
Ajee' Wilson is prepared for the battle of her life. Or should we say battles - not just here at the
Trials but in Tokyo as well.
(Oh yes, there's another A. Wilson in the Olympic Trials mix. Monmouth University graduate
Alexandra "Allie" Wilson is coming on like gangbusters and cannot be disregarded, either.)
Ex-world indoor champion Chanelle Price was quickest of all qualifiers out of the opening round in
1:59.86, with Sage Hurta next best at 2:00.08, followed by Ajee' Wilson at 2:00.05, Mu at 2:00.69 and Allie Wilson at 2:00.71.
Lurking, too, were such notables as Raevyn Rogers (2:00.75), Kate Grace (2:00.81) and Nia Akins (2:00.82.)
But the spotlight is surely on the Mu-Ajee' Wilson challenge.
Of course, we all know who Al Jennings is rooting for.
Bernice Mitchell was Mu's first age-group coach, then became her co-coach with Jennings.
By age 10, they knew they had a special talent on their hands. But they were smart enough not to
overwhelm her with adult-sized workouts and keep her motivated to take it one step at a time.
"We've all seen so many promising kids burned out," said Jennings. "That was the last thing we wanted to see with Athing. "We did it with natural progressions, taking it nice and easy every step of the way."
And so Mu stayed healthy and motivated and determined to do bigger, better and more phenomenal
"I really think she's destined to break the world record," said Jennings. "I:53, 1:52, that's not impossible
Nothing is, eventually. This young lady is that good. No question about it."
The king has spoken.