Coburn golden on global stage

CU grad­u­ate wins steeple­chase at world cham­pi­onships

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Daniel Petty

As Emma Coburn raced to­ward the fi­nal wa­ter bar­rier in the women’s 3,000-me­ter steeple­chase at the world cham­pi­onships of track and field in Lon­don, she re­mem­bered what her coach and fi­ancé, Joe Bosshard, told her be­fore the race: “Make sure the last wa­ter jump is pow­er­ful.”

By her side Fri­day with a crowd of 60,000 fans roar­ing was Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng Jep­ke­moi, the 2015 world cham­pion, and Amer­i­can Court­ney Frerichs. Their feet hit the top of the bar­rier, and Coburn and Frerichs pushed off force­fully, strid­ing per­fectly out of the wa­ter. Jep­ke­moi fal­tered ever so slightly, landed short and lost her mo­men­tum.

That was Coburn’s open­ing.

The Univer­sity of Colorado grad­u­ate pushed to the lead, glided over the fi­nal bar­rier on the home­stretch and bolted to the fin­ish, rais­ing her hands as a world cham­pion, with Frerichs just be­hind claim­ing sil­ver — an end­ing that stunned the world of track and field. Coburn’s golden time of 9 min­utes, 2.58 sec­onds was the sixth-fastest ever in the event and broke both the cham­pi­onship and her own Amer­i­can record, the lat­ter of which she low­ered by five sec­onds. Jep­ke­moi fin­ished in third in 9:04.03.

“I am so happy. I can’t get the smile off my face,” Coburn told The Denver Post from Lon­don. “I can’t be­lieve it’s real and that Court­ney was able to fin­ish sec­ond

and we went 1-2.

“Go­ing over that last hur­dle and re­al­iz­ing no one was com­ing af­ter me, that was an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing.”

Frerichs — who won an NCAA steeple­chase ti­tle in 2016 run­ning for New Mex­ico be­fore join­ing the Bow­er­man Track Club in Port­land, Ore. — fin­ished in 9:03.77, the No. 7 time ever in the event and an im­prove­ment of nearly 16 sec­onds over her pre­vi­ous best.

No Amer­i­can had medaled in the event at the world cham­pi­onships, let alone won it. The only male or fe­male Amer­i­can ever to win gold in the event at the Olympics was Ho­race Ashen­fel­ter in 1952. The last 1-2 fin­ish by Amer­i­cans at any event longer than 400 me­ters came dur­ing the Stock­holm Olympics in 1912.

Al­most a year ago to the day, Coburn stood on the podium at the Rio Games, her fam­ily in the stands, cradling a bronze medal — the first Olympic medal by an Amer­i­can women in the event. Next to her, one step above, was Kenyan-born gold medal­ist Ruth Jebet of Bahrain, the world-record holder in the event who had long fin­ished ahead of her in in­ter­na­tional meets.

Fri­day, Coburn once again faced Jebet, who led through the first 2,000 me­ters of the race and threw a pun­ish­ing surge midway through to win­now the field of 15 to six. But Jebet faded to fifth, and the six fin­ish­ers right be­hind Coburn and Frerichs were of Kenyan or Ethiopian de­scent — a re­mark­able re­sult con­sid­er­ing the East Africans’ long­time dom­i­nance of dis­tance events at the Olympics and world cham­pi­onships, in­clud­ing steeple­chase.

“I knew I was fit, and my train­ing’s all gone re­ally well,” said Coburn, 26. “Ev­ery­thing has in­di­cated that I am in PR shape, and I’m healthy. But … it’s the best steeple field ever. The Kenyan and Bahraini ath­letes are just at the top of their game right now, so I knew I had to run a per­fect race just to be on the podium.”

But ev­ery­thing ul­ti­mately came down to that fi­nal wa­ter jump. Coburn re­mem­bers at the 2015 world cham­pi­onships be­ing in a group of five at the fi­nal wa­ter bar­rier. Fa­tigued, she emerged from the pit last and fin­ished fifth. Last year in Rio, she was in a bat­tle for sec­ond at the fi­nal wa­ter jump and emerged slow again, end­ing up third. This time, Coburn was de­ter­mined not to do the same.

“I had a bit­ter mem­ory of those two wa­ter jumps and re­ally wanted to give it my all and re­ally fo­cus on my form. And go­ing into it, I was feel­ing re­ally strong,” Coburn said.

It’s hard to imag­ine this race go­ing any bet­ter for her, and it capped a year of re­mark­able progress and change. She left her long­time coach, Mark Wet­more, seven weeks af­ter the Rio Olympics to be coached by Bosshard, whom she first met as a teenager in Crested Butte grow­ing up. The cou­ple will marry this fall.

“To be hon­est, I had never dreamed of win­ning,” she said. “I dreamed of be­ing on the podium. I dreamed that at some point in my ca­reer that nine min­utes was a very at­tain­able goal … but never did I imag­ine it would be a world cham­pi­onship run.”

“Go­ing over that last hur­dle and re­al­iz­ing

no one was com­ing af­ter me, that was

an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing.” — Emma Coburn

Gold medal­ist Emma Coburn, a Univer­sity of Colorado grad­u­ate, and sil­ver medal­ist Court­ney Frerichs cel­e­brate Fri­day af­ter fin­ish­ing 1-2 in the women’s 3,000-me­ter steeple­chase at the world cham­pi­onships in Lon­don.

Jewel Sa­mad, Getty Images An­drej Isakovic, Getty Images

Coburn, left, and Frerichs make a big splash for U.S. track and field at Lon­don’s Olympic Sta­dium, which was packed with 60,000 fans.

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