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Penn alumna Nia Akins placed sixth in the 2023 World Athletics Championship's 800-meter race.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Last month in Budapest, Hungary, former Penn track and field star Nia Akins placed sixth in the 2023 World Athletics Championship in the 800-meter distance. In the race, Akins ran a personal-best of 1:57.73, and finished under two seconds behind winner Mary Moraa of Kenya — whose time was 1:56.03. 

Akins reached the finals in the event after winning her heat with a time of 1:59.19, and then finishing second in her semifinal at 1:58.61, behind only Great Britain's Keely Hodgkinson, who finished with the silver medal. 

Prior to the World Championship, Akins had been enjoying a very successful season on the track. At the National Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships, held in Eugene, Ore. in July, she won the 800m event with a final time of 1:59.09. 

But even before this summer, Akins was no stranger to success, having already been an incredible standout during her time in Red and Blue. Upon her graduation in 2020, she held eight individual and group program records, including in both the indoor and outdoor 800m events. Akins' indoor time of 2:00.71 also remains the second-fastest mark in NCAA history. 

One of her most impressive meets came during the 2019 Penn Relays, where Akins was ultimately named College Athlete of the Meet to become the first Penn woman to ever win that award. She propelled Penn's team in the Distance Medley Relay, winning the Championship of America award in the event and breaking the program record by more than nine seconds.

Akins — who grew up in San Diego and attended Rancho Bernardo — also made a mark on the conference and national stage during her collegiate career. In both the 2019 Indoor and 2019 Outdoor seasons, she was a national runner-up in the 800m, leading her to receive the first-team All-America honors in both disciplines. In 2018, Akins also received an honorable mention to the first-team All-American in the outdoor 800m events. Akins also won nine events at Ivy League Heptagonal Championships during her time as a Quaker, including five in the indoor season and four in the outdoor season. 

Unfortunately, Akins' senior outdoor season was cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. But after her graduation, she moved to Seattle and signed with the Brooks Beasts Track Club. At the time, Akins said that her signing with that club represented a natural next step toward pursuing her goals. 

"I knew in the back of my mind that this was a place I felt really strongly about, even back in the fall," Akins told the DP in 2020. "Running is a pretty simple sport — it’s just having the next level of  training partners, the next level of resources, the next level of coaching. There are some new components that I know will work together  nicely with what I’ve been doing." 

At the time, Akins was preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but did not qualify after placing ninth in the 800m at the U.S. Olympic Trials in June 2021. But in the 2022 season, Akins made her return to Franklin Field two years after she last competed in the Red and Blue. At the Penn Relays, Akins finished third in the 600-meter race, competing against other elite athletes such as Ajeé Wilson and Athing Mu. 

Now, with just under a year until the 2024 Paris Olympics, Akins is likely in a good spot to race on the biggest stage in global track and field.