Athing Mu will be unable to defend her Olympic title in the 800 meters after falling in the U.S. Olympic Trials final on Monday.

She tripped as she maneuvered in from the stagger about 200 meters into the race, video showed, leaving her out of the top three spots allotted for passage to Paris. Her coach has filed a protest, The Associated Press reported.

The spectacle of an Olympic favorite crashing out had many fans on social media feeling heartbroken for her. But some criticized a U.S. system that does not provide elite performers a second avenue to qualify in case of the unforeseen.

Athletes in track and field must finish in the top three or they don’t go, for the most part.

Mu could make the team as a 4×400 meter relay runner ― she helped Team USA to gold in that event in the Tokyo Games ― but her dreams of repeating as champ in her specialty are shattered.

“I know we’re big on the whole merit thing” but team selectors need “to step in in situations like this and grant wildcard admissions to the Olympic team to top athletes who just have a bad day,” one person wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“1-2 spots should be automatic and then a committee picks the third athlete just like it happens here in Kenya,” someone else suggested. “Hugs Mu.”

“A travesty, no Athing Mu in Paris,” another wrote. “US trials are beyond ruthless.”

Mu’s coach, Bobby Kersee, sounded philosophical afterward but said he did file a protest, claiming Mu was tripped from behind and got spiked on her leg. She finished the race well off the pace.

“Here’s another indication that regardless of how good we are, we can leave some better athletes home than other countries have. It’s part of our American way,” Kersee told The Associated Press.

While congratulations are in order for the winner, Nia Akins (who fell in the 2021 trials final) and the other qualifiers, Allie Wilson and Juliette Whittaker, the winning time was more than 2 seconds slower than what Mu ran in the 2021 Tokyo Olympic final at age 19. She became the first American woman to win the event since 1968.

Mu has experienced hamstring trouble that kept her out of some races, but she was still considered a legitimate contender for France.

Athing Mu in last place after falling in the women's 800-meter final.
Athing Mu in last place after falling in the women’s 800-meter final.

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