For 53 years, Madeline Manning sat on top of the mountain as the only American woman to win the women’s 800 meters during the Summer Olympics. Manning now has company. It’s pretty fast company, too. When Manning won her gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico, she did so with a time of 2:00.9.
At that time, Manning, a member of the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame and the Olympic Hall of Fame, set an Olympic record with her time. Fifty-three years later, a 19-year-old track sensation established a new mark in the two-lap race.
Athing Mu, who just recently competed in the NCAA Track and Field Championships, winning the women’ 400, bested the American record in the 800, clocking in at a speedy and surreal 1:55.21. Mu and Manning are the only two Americans to win a gold medal in the women’s 800 meters in the history of the Olympics.
Both women are Black and have had to overcome selective life hurdles to become an Olympic champion. Manning ran at a time when Black Americans were fighting the death throes of the Jim Crow era. She attended and ran track for Ed Temple at Tennessee State University, a small historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee.
Out of all the runners to have come from Temple’s famed Tennessee State Tigerbelles track program, Manning seemed to operate successfully without a lot of fanfare, even though she broke American and Olympic records in the 800. Like famed Tigerbelle Wilma Rudolph, who dominated the 1960 Rome Olympics, Manning had to overcome a serious health issue just to survive.
Rudolph battled and eventually turned the tables on polio before moving on and becoming the first American woman to win three gold medals during the Olympics. Growing up, Manning had to fight off spinal meningitis. Manning would go on to become a three-time Olympian (1968, 1972, and 1976). Interesting enough, what Manning achieved at the 1968 Olympics was overshadowed on multiple fronts.
The Vietnam War was raging. The Tlatelolco Massacre took place just days before the Summer Games got started. Tigerbelle teammate Wyomia Tyus became the first person in the history of the Olympics to win back-to-back gold medals in the 100 meters. Then there was the eruption following the silent gesture protest by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
Sandwiched in between all of this noise was Manning, quietly doing her thing on the track. Now we come to Mu and her amazing run into the history books. Mu started 2021 as a runner for Texas A&M University. Now the Sudan-born Mu is an Olympian champion . And it wasn’t even close.
Featured Image Caption: Athing Mu wins the women’s 800m at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)