Surely one of the most enduring images of the ’17 campaign has been the instantly classic WC photo of joyful steeplechase winner Emma Coburn crossing the finish line with a disbelieving Courtney Frerichs just steps behind. In what looked like an encore performance of the last year’s London final, Coburn and Frerichs recreated that stirring image by again finishing 1-2 in the USATF final.
The London gold and silver medalists had breezed through the heats. The never-threatened Coburn jogged 9:48.79 to win the first section by 35m and Frerichs clocked 9:42.02 to cross first by 10m in the more competitive second section.
The final, conducted under warm, dry, and still conditions, got underway with Kentucky’s Katy Kunc bolting out to an early 25m lead. Nobody panicked. The field, with Coburn and Frerichs nestled in 2nd and 4th, caught up with the eventual 9th-place finisher after a kilometer. In the fourth lap, Coburn eased into the lead while Frerichs moved up into 2nd shortly after the 2-kilo mark as the duo separated from the other competitors. The final two laps resembled an Ali/Frazier title fight: Coburn, the smoother hurdler, would stretch out her slight lead by powering over the barriers while the former New Mexico star—who never assumed the lead—would claw back before the next one.
Coburn was just steps ahead of Frerichs at the bell, but over the final circuit the Colorado alum, with extra gears left, displayed the grit that had allowed her to win this national championship 6 previous times. Deftly turning the screw on the backstretch the AR holder kept stretching her lead and her aggressive clearance over the final water jump was the final dagger. With a final lap of 64.44, Coburn notched national title No. 7 (5 in a row) with a 9:17.70. Frerichs, racing the final lap in 65.20, was a strong 2nd in 9:18.69, her second-fastest time ever. Oiselle’s Mel Lawrence was well back in 3rd, but scored the only PR of the race, 9:33.30.
After the race Coburn revealed her approach, which anticipated all circumstances and left nothing to chance. “I was trying to be relaxed, trying to run my own race,” said the Olympic bronze medalist. “I know that Courtney is very skilled. I know that in any given race there can be trips and falls and surprise performances from people so I was really just trying to focus on running a race that matched my skills given the conditions, given that it may be warm, may be a little windy, and with no rabbits. I was trying to make a race plan that really benefited my skill set.”
The 27-year-old Coburn, who has repeatedly stated that breaking 9:00 is one of her major ’18 goals, is now off to the Diamond League, where she’ll once again face off against the rest of the world’s best.
USATF WOMEN’S STEEPLE RESULTS
FINAL (June 23; interior water jump)
1. Emma Coburn (NBal) 9:17.70 (64.44, 2:11.97, 3:27.79, 4:45.72);
2. Courtney Frerichs (BowTC) 9:18.69 (65.20, 2:12.75, 3:28.66, 4:46.51);
3. Mel Lawrence (Oise) 9:33.30 PR (72.11, 2:26.67, 3:43.37, 5:01.19);
4. Shalaya Kipp (unat) 9:41.24;
5. Emily Oren (Oise) 9:44.75;
6. Megan Rolland (Oise) 9:51.29;
7. Grayson Murphy (Ut) 9:54.16;
8. Sarah Pease (rabbit) 9:57.58;
9. Katy Kunc (Ky) 10:01.83;
10. Tori Gerlach (Reeb) 10:03.12;
11. Alexina Wilson (Oise) 10:03.63;
12. Sarah Scott (Ok) 10:04.17;
13. Rebekah Topham (Wich) 10:04.45;
… dnf—Jessica Kamilos (Sauc).
HEATS (June 21)
I–1. Coburn 9:48.79; 2. Rolland 9:54.81; 3. Kipp 9:55.70; 4. Pease 9:59.44; 5. Topham 10:00.59; 6. Murphy 10:01.77;
7. Morgan Wedekind (KsSt) 10:02.28; 8. Madeline Strandemo (Mn) 10:05.32; 9. Sage Hurta (Co) 10:08.77; 10. Taylor Austin (InSt) 10:13.81; 11. Alexandra Burkhart (Chico) 10:35.84.
II–1. Frerichs 9:42.02; 2. Lawrence 9:45.35; 3. Wilson 9:48.37; 4. Oren 9:48.40; 5. Gerlach 9:48.89; 6. Kamilos 9:50.94; 7. Kunc 9:55.76; 8. Scott 10:00.86;
9. Courtney Coppinger (Ks) 10:03.08; 10. Breanna Sieracki (TUSAMn) 10:09.59; 11. Anna McDonald (Boise) 10:10.44; 12. Emily de La Bruyere (PacersR) 10:16.39. □