Emma Coburn & Courtney Frerichs Shock the World

By Kevin Liao

August 11, 2017

Americans Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs shocked the world on Friday with a spectacular one-two finish in the women’s 3000 meter steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships, becoming the first two U.S. women to earn medals in the event.

The race got off to a strange start when race leader Beatrice Chepkoech missed the turn for the first water jump and had to back track in order to not be disqualified.

Seeing of one her main competitors having fallen back, Ruth Jebet, the world record holder, hit the gas and started pushing the pace. She lead through 1000 meters in 3:02.74 and 2000 meters in 6:03.60. Coburn and Frerichs laid off the hot pace just a bit while still maintaining contact with the main pack, a tactic that would pay off.

As the lead group of five hit the last lap, you could see Jebet starting to run out of gas as Chepkoech hit the front.

Down the backstretch, Chepkoech and her countrywoman Hyvin Jepkemoi, along with Frerichs, all made charges to the front.

Waiting patiently during that time was Coburn, who waited until the final water barrier to make her move and seized the lead with a powerful last final jump.

“Be really powerful,” was the advice Coburn’s fiancee and coach Joe Bosshard told her before the race. Point well taken.

It was all Coburn over the final 100 meters as she pulled away from Frerichs and Jepkemoi, who earned the bronze medal. She crossed the finish line in a championship record 9:02.58, more than five seconds faster than she ran in Rio to win her bronze medal.

For Coburn, a native of tiny Crested Butte, Colo. (population 1,487), this marks the absolute pinnacle of an already groundbreaking career.

Before Coburn, few American women made the final of global championship races, let alone dreamed on winning medals. Coburn’s combination of flat speed, efficiency over barriers, and true grit completely changed the landscape of the steeplechase in the United States.

Before today, Coburn held 11 of the 12 fastest U.S. marks ever. Her dominance has raised the game of her American competition, dragging those like Frerichs, Colleen Quigley, and Steph Garcia to faster and faster times and raising their competitiveness on the international stage.

Much credit must also go to Frerichs, who ran the race of her life to lower her personal best a remarkable 15 seconds from 9:19.09 to 9:03.77. It can easily be argued that Frerichs winning silver is a much bigger surprise than Coburn taking gold.

Back at USA’s, I asked Frerichs what she learned from her debut international experience at last summer’s Olympics that she would bring to London.

“I on the wrong side of the pack. A lot of that came from being afraid at the beginning,” Frerichs said. “I hope to be riskier this year.”

I’d say it worked out.

The two are now the sixth- and seventh-fastest women, respectively, to ever run the event. (Graphic via Scott Olberding)

Kevin Liao

Sacramento-based amateur runner, photographer and writer. Once interviewed Taoufik Makhloufi in French. Enjoys politics a lot. Follow him on Twitter @RunLiao.