Keely Hodgkinson set for Athing Mu duel after ruthless display in Birmingham 800m

By Mike HensonBBC Sport at Alexander Stadium

Twelve months on and a quarter of a second faster.

In her first outdoor 800m of 2021, Keely Hodgkinson won in one minute 58.89 seconds.

In her first outdoor 800m of 2022, she won in one minute 58.63 seconds.

The raw data might not tell you much. Instead you needed to look and listen a little harder to see how a promising teenager has turned supernova in the space of a year.

After Hodgkinson's landmark win in Ostrava in 2021 - her first time below two minutes outdoors - she was wreathed in smiles. It was, she said, "the perfect race".

After blitzing the Birmingham Diamond League field on Saturday, she was more sanguine.

"It was fine," she said after her first race since a thigh tear forced her out of the World Indoor Championships in March.

"My aim this year is to be running 1:56s and 1:57s. It's definitely an improvement on last year, but I think the bar has just been raised so much this year."

Certainly, no-one could live with the heights Hodgkinson was hitting at the Alexander Stadium.

Natoya Goule is no slouch. The Jamaican was a finalist at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and the 2019 World Championships in Doha.

But as Hodgkinson's yawning stride piled on the pressure down the back straight, and the home crowd roared like they hadn't for anyone except Dina Asher-Smith, Goule disappeared from the Briton's slipstream.

Up in the commentary gantry, Jenny Meadows, who along with her husband Trevor Painter coaches the 20-year-old, was already starting the debrief.

"It was really interesting to watch not just Keely, but all the other women," Meadows told BBC Sport.

"They're now actually giving her so much respect. They're hardly even thinking they can challenge her.

"I don't think she put her foot down until the last 100m. Last week she kept saying to me and Trevor 'what shape am I in?' We said if you want to run 1:56 you can do it.

"If I'm being picky I don't think the first lap was very fast. I'd have liked to have seen her go faster and challenge herself."

Hodgkinson certainly won't need to worry about setting the pace and providing motivation next weekend.

It takes two to raise a bar and American Athing Mu, the teenager who beat Hodgkinson to gold in Tokyo, lies in wait at the Diamond League's next stop in Eugene.

Mu has won the past 32 races she has finished, a run that stretches back to March 2021, up to 1500m and down to 400m. She is a generational talent who has been rewriting record books since high school.

As the World Championships head to Oregon in July - the biggest track and field event in the United States since the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 - she will be front and centre to sell the sport to the world's biggest market.

For Hodgkinson, reaching the sport's biggest summits means overcoming Mu's towering talent.

Her steep improvement cannot falter if she is to upset the odds, and the home crowd.

The pair's rivalry seems set to drive both to new heights in years to come.

As she departed Birmingham, Hodgkinson was in no mood to look back at how far she has come.

Next week, the next challenge and another level were all she could see.

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