Next weekend, the Penn Relays are returning for the first time in three years, and so is one of the most dominant athletes in Penn history.
Nia Akins, who graduated in 2020, holds eight Penn records, including the fastest outdoor 800-meter and 1500-meter times ever put up by a Quaker. She was a four-time Ivy League Heptagonals Champion and five-time indoor first team All-Ivy selection as well.
However, in the 600 meters, she will not be without competition.
“The women’s 600 is probably our best field,” Director of Penn Relays Steve Dolan, who is also Penn's track and field coach, said at a press conference on Thursday. “Led by [Ajeé Wilson, who] just won the World Championships at 800, she’s a two-time Olympian, and she’ll lead that women’s 600 field.”
Wilson also has ties to Philadelphia, having grown up in the area and competing at the Penn Relays since she was in high school.
In competing against this tough field, Akins will bring not only her Penn experience with her, but also a bevy of experience at the Penn Relays themselves. This will be Akins’ fourth time in the Relays, having competed in both individual events and relays in the past. In 2019, she was named Penn Relays College Athlete of the Meet.
Still, Akins will be wise not to count her competition out.
“It’s a great field, we also have some local stars, Athing Mu is going to join the field,” Dolan said. “She won the Olympics last year, which is super exciting, she’s another person from the Philadelphia area ties. Nataya Goule is going to run, she’s the Jamaican record holder in the 800.”
Mu, who won two gold medals in Tokyo, beat out Akins in the 800m in the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. last year, costing Akins an Olympic bid, so this will be something of a revenge race for Akins.
Mu is a native of Trenton, N.J. and runs collegiately for Texas A&M.
“A couple of young runners, one we’re proud of is Nia Akins, who was the NCAA runner-up here at Penn and is now running for the Brooks Beasts, she’ll be in the field,” Dolan said. “And Jazmine Fray, who was the NCAA champion in the 800, will also be in the field.”
Since her college career came to an abrupt end, Akins has run professionally in Seattle, where she is also pursuing her nursing career. Additionally, Akins recently ventured into the music field, releasing her first single, “Smoke,” in January.
“She always showed up at the big track meet when it was time, and she would always come through in that situation,” Dolan told the DP in 2020. “She definitely leads by example with her hard work and ability to respond in big situations.”