‘I Believe in Athing called Mu’: Trenton honors native daughter on her way to the Olympics

A banner celebrating Olympic track star Athing Mu hands on the front of Trenton City Hall.

A banner celebrating Olympic track star Athing Mu hands on the front of Trenton City Hall. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

​​​​Athing Mu, of Trenton, New Jersey, is going to the Olympics as a serious contender for a gold medal, and her hometown couldn’t be more thrilled.

About a hundred people gathered on the steps of City Hall as community members and elected officials – including the Mayor, city council members, and state legislators – unveiled a banner of Mu draped over the building, with plans to erect at least three billboards featuring her around town.

“It’s not just a banner. This banner is a declaration of hope,” said County Commissioner Sam Frisby, “It declares that good things can come from this city, that great things can come from this county.”

A banner celebrating Olympic track star Athing Mu hands on the front of Trenton City Hall.
A banner celebrating Olympic track star Athing Mu hands on the front of Trenton City Hall. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Mu, 19, will compete in Tokyo as one of the American Olympic team’s youngest runners. She is seen as the team’s best chance for a gold medal in the 800 meter race, an event no American woman has won since Madeline Manning in 1968.

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Mu was born in Trenton to Sudanese parents and was recognized from an early age as an exceptional track runner. She excelled as both an athlete and an honor student at Trenton Central High School, graduating in 2020. She is now a student at Texas A&M where she has broken running records, most recently at the NCAA championships in June.

“The world is finding out what we’ve known for years,” said Thomas Harrington, an elementary and middle school gym teacher in Trenton who has followed Mu’s prowess since she was in kindergarten. “That this is a phenomenal young lady, a great athlete, but an even greater person and very brilliant young lady.”

Thomas and Janet Harrington wear custom t-shirts at Trenton City Hall
Gym teacher Thomas Harrington, who taught Athing Mu during her elementary school years at Hedgepeth-Williams school in Trenton, says he recognized the girls extraordinary ability in kindergarten. He and his wife, Janet Harrington, wore custom T-shirts to the banner raising at Trenton. City Hall. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Teachers, coaches, principals, and civic leaders lined up to praise Mu and hold her up as both a role model and symbol of Trenton. Evoking the city’s signature phrase, “Trenton Makes, the World Takes,” Mayor Reed Gusciora said, “Trenton makes champions, and the whole world will get the chance to see her next week in Japan.”

Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora speaks from a podium
Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora presents an example of one of three billboards that will go up around Trenton celebrating Olympic athlete Athing Mu. The Trenton Central High School graduate is celebrated as a scholar and a role model as well as an athlete. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

State Senator Shirley Turner delivered an official resolution from the New Jersey General Assembly, commending Mu for her “meritorious record and service and leadership commitment.”

Mu was not present at the rally in front of City Hall as she is preparing with her team to travel to Tokyo. Her former coach at the Trenton Track Club, Bernice Mitchell, plans to send Mu a video of the proceedings before she leaves on Saturday. She is scheduled to compete on Friday, July 30.

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Al Jennings and Bernice Mitchell speak from a podium at Trenton City Hall
Athing Mu’s high school track coaches, Al Jennings and Bernice Mitchell, talk about their experiences with the young track star during a celebration at Trenton City Hall. Mu is a contender for the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympic games. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“It’s good to know that she can see that,” said Mitchell, who has been involved with Mu’s running career since she was a shy five-year-old. “We’ve always been with her, but now she has the city behind her. There’s people from the county behind her. She can see it. She can feel it.”

Mu is the 17th Trentonian to go to the Olympics since the modern competition began in 1896, according to the Trenton City Museum. Just two had won medals: Terrance Cauthen won a bronze for boxing in 1996 (Atlanta), and Lawrence Low was part of the yachting team that won a gold in 1956 (Melbourne).

A crowd gathers on the steps of Trenton City Hall
A crowd gathers on the steps of Trenton City Hall to celebrate homegrown Olympic athlete Athing Mu. The 19-year-old is a contender for the gold in her event, the 800-meter, at the Tokyo games. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

At the rally at City Hall, many wore t-shirts that read “I Believe in Athing called Mu” and “Trenton’s Athing of Beauty,” and sent up cheers at every mention of a gold medal. County Commissioner Frisby left little room for doubt about where the gold would go. He is already determined to officially dedicate Mu’s next birthday, June 8, 2022, as Athing Mu Day in Mercer County.

“In the words of our great, great prophet, Stevie Wonder: ‘Don’t you worry ‘bout Athing,’” said Frisby. “Because Athing Mu is going to bring back the gold.”

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