A Look At The Olympic Picture For U.S. Steeplechasers After Emma Coburn’s Injury

By Chris Chavez

May 3, 2024

Three-time U.S. Olympian, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and 2017 world champion Emma Coburn has announced that she will miss next month’s U.S. Olympic Trials after breaking her right ankle in her season opener at the Shanghai Diamond League.

Here’s what you need to know:

– Coburn made the announcement on Instagram and wrote: “I don’t really know what to say… I broke my ankle on the water jump in Shanghai. At first, I thought I just sprained it, even though the pain was pretty intense. When I got home, images showed torn ligaments, damaged cartilage, and a fracture in my medial malleolus. I had surgery yesterday and got a screw in my ankle for the fracture and got the cartilage cleaned up. If all goes well, I can start jogging again in 6 weeks. That means I’m out for the Olympic Trials. The dream of Paris is over. There has been a *lot* of heartbreak in the last couple of years for me, but damn, I love this sport and nothing heals a broken heart like working hard and getting back. See ya out there later this year ✌️”

– Paris would’ve marked Coburn’s fourth Olympic team. She competed at the 2012, 2016 and 2021 Olympics.

– In 2016, Coburn became the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in the steeplechase when she earned a bronze.

– The following year, she won gold at the World Championships and became the first American woman to medal in the 3000m steeplechase at Worlds.

– Coburn is a 10-time U.S. champion in the steeplechase. She earned her first two titles in 2011 and 2013 and then went on an eight-year winning streak at USAs from 2014 to 2022.

– Last year, she finished second at the U.S. Championships behind NAZ Elite’s Krissy Gear despite battling a hamstring injury in her buildup. Coburn went on to finish 10th in the heats at the World Championships in Budapest, which marked the first time in her career that she did not make a global championship final.

– Coburn’s hamstring injury persisted and she spent much of the past eight months cross training.

– Last weekend’s Shanghai Diamond League was her first race since last August. With one kilometer left, she fell on a water jump and dropped out. Afterward on X, she wrote: “Dang it. Tweaked my ankle on a water jump with 1k to go. Had to DNF. I’ll be okay, just a disappointing return to racing after ending last season with my hamstring injury. Very very happy for my teammate Gabbi Jennings for her new PR 9:19 and 5th place!”

Krissy Gear, Olivia Markezich and Courtney Wayment at the 2023 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field ChampionshipsKrissy Gear, Olivia Markezich and Courtney Wayment at the 2023 U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships

Kevin Morris/@KevMoFoto

What Does This Mean For The U.S. Women’s Steeplechase Picture?

Coburn has been a fixture on U.S. teams for more than a decade and it’s crushing to see a global medal contender miss an Olympics. She’s a big part of why the United States women have taken a major step forward in recent years to continue competing against the top East African athletes. So who can fill her spot on the Olympic team?

The sort of time required to make the team has only gotten faster in recent years (9:18 in 2021, 9:16 in 2022, 9:14 in 2023) but that’s often the result of a frontrunner like Coburn or Courtney Frerichs pushing the pace from the jump. In Coburn’s absence, if the pace lags and it becomes more of a kicker’s race, more women could enter the mix.

Note: A lot of the following is based on indoor performances and last season. Mid-May tends to be the time for most top steeplechasers to open up over water barriers.

The Experienced Contenders

Krissy Gear (NAZ Elite): The reigning U.S. champion has yet to steeple this year and has been training in Flagstaff. She’s on the entries for the Prefontaine Classic on May 25th. She should take confidence from a very successful return to the steeplechase last year, in which fans saw her progress from 9:23.55 in her season opener to 9:12.81 when she kicked to win at USAs. If she’s refined that speed (and we’ve seen how well her training partners have been running), she’ll be dangerous.

Courtney Wayment (On): Wayment is the only American woman who has run in the last two World Championship finals and she impressed this past indoor season with a 14:49.78 personal best for 5000m, earning her the Olympic standard in that event. This past weekend, she steepled for the first time since last September and finished second to training partner Lexy Halladay-Lowry (another steepler to watch since she’s redshirting for BYU this spring) – 9:27.72 to 9:30.57. Making the team would be even sweeter after finishing fourth at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials

Courtney Frerichs (Nike): The silver medalist in Tokyo struggled with injuries last year and had the unfortunate luck of falling in her steeplechase prelim but still advanced. However, due to a bone bruise in her fibula, she scratched from the final and missed her first global championship since 2015. Earlier this year, she announced she had left the Nike Bowerman Track Club and was being coached by Amy and Alistair Cragg, which may work in her favor since it reunited her with Pascal Dobert (who now serves as a consultant with PUMA Elite and was her steeplechase coach on Bowerman). We only have her solid 15:01.06 from February 9th at Boston University to show for her 2024 results. She’ll be at the Prefontaine Classic.

Possible Breakout Stars

Olivia Markezich (Notre Dame): Back in December, I was quick to pick Markezich as the favorite to win the U.S. Olympic Trials following her 8:40.42, which was a then-collegiate record in the 3000m. She just opened up her outdoor season with a 9:36.33 steeple to finish second at a meet in Winston Salem. It’s faster than last year’s 9:40.65 opener to win the ACC title. We’ll see what she has in store as she preps for the NCAA Championship season but she’ll face stiff competition in Alabama’s Doris Lemengole, who beat her in that opener, going 9:22.31.

Gabby Jennings (Adidas): Jennings has progressed well over the past two years since joining Team Boss. Having Coburn as a training partner and mentor is paying dividends and it showed as she lowered her personal best from 9:25.05 to 9:19.59 with a fifth place finish this past weekend in Shanghai. Looking beyond the time, she beat three women who have run under 9:15 and three finalists from Worlds last year.

Val Constien (Nike): The U.S. Olympian is coming back from a torn ACL in her Diamond League debut a year ago. She’s slated to race at the Prefontaine Classic.

Watch list – The following women have run under 9:30 and could be poised for big performances in May: Marisa Howard (9:22.73 PB); Madie Boreman (9:22.99), Kaylee Mitchell (9:24.01), Logan Jolly (9:26.97), Gracie Hyde (9:28.17)

Chris Chavez

Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.