3,000 Steeplechase: Expect Easy Wins for Evan Jager and Emma Coburn

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By LetsRun.com
June 24, 2014

There’s good news and bad news in the steeplechase at the 2014 USATF Outdoor Championships.

The good news is that two of America’s best-ever steeplechasers are in peak form in 2014: Evan Jager and Emma Coburn. Jager just missed re-setting his own American record in the Oslo Diamond League race, finishing second, while Coburn (#2 all-time U.S.) became the first American, man or woman, to win a Diamond League steeple in Shanghai on May 18. Coburn has run 9:17.84 this season and is closing in on training partner Jenny Simpson‘s American record of 9:12.50.

The bad news is that Jager and Coburn are so good that the steeplechases at USAs don’t figure to be that close. The presence of barriers means anything can happen in a steeplechase, but barring some falls, Jager and Coburn will be your champions. Our full previews are below.

Men’s 3,000 steeplechase

Prelims: Friday, 9:22 p.m. ET

Final: Sunday, 4:52 p.m. ET

NameAffiliationDOBPBSBComment
Evan JagerNike / Bowerman TC3.8.19898:06.818:06.972-time defending champ almost broke his own AR at Oslo DL on June 11
Daniel HulingNike / Bowerman TC7.16.19838:13.298:15.872010 champ ran his fastest time since ’10 (8:15) in Oslo
Craig ForysNYAC7.13.19898:26.308:26.308th last year; ran PR at Oxy on May 15 but hasn’t raced since
Billy Nelson9.11.19848:17.278:28.42Won Payton Jordan and was 5th in Tokyo on May 11 but no races since
Aric Van Halen10.6.19898:32.928:32.925-second PR at Payton Jordan; 9th last year at USAs
Donnie Cowart10.24.19858:26.38N/A5th in ’13 but no steeples so far this year
Tabor StevensAdams St.6.21.19918:35.058:35.052-time defending NCAA Division II champ; 2nd in 5k at D-II championships
Cory LeslieNike10.24.19898:20.08N/A10th last year; no steeples in 2014
Donald CabralNike12.12.19898:19.14N/A2012 Olympian was 6th in ’13 while battling Lyme disease but ran big 5k PR of 13:22 at Payton Jordan
Benjamin Bruceadidas9.10.19828:19.10N/AWon San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on June 1; would he race here as well?
Travis MahoneyNJ*NY TC7.25.19908:30.878:40.3513th last year; 5th at NCAAs in 2012
Mason FerlicMichigan8:38.748:38.74Top American at NCAAs in 4th
Andrew BayerNike / Bowerman TC2.3.19908:39.968:39.962012 NCAA 1500 champ has only run one steeple: win at Portland Track Festival on June 15
Alex BrillWisconsin9.23.19908:37.628:44.019th at NCAAs
David GoodmanNE Distance8:44.768:44.76PR’d in opener at Princeton on April 18 but hasn’t broken 8:52 since
Edward OwensPrinceton8.11.19938:46.418:46.41 Didn’t score at Heps but made NCAAs.
Dylan SorensenGeorgetown8:47.078:47.07
Jesus RomoNB Silicon Valley8:48.348:48.34
Tyler Curtis8:49.228:49.22
Alex McGuirkCal St. Chico8:50.038:50.03
Evan Jager is in great shape in 2014

Evan Jager is in great shape in 2014

(Entries subject to change. Check the status of entries here.)

Jager, who was fifth at Worlds last year and sixth at the London Olympics, has won the last two USATF titles and should have no problem extending that streak to three in Sacramento. He set a mile PR at Pre on May 31 (3:53.33) and followed that up with an 8:06.97 in his steeple debut in Oslo on June 11, just .16 seconds off his own American record.

Dan Huling, the 2010 U.S. champ and Jager’s teammate with the Bowerman Track Club, ran 8:15.87 in Oslo (the fastest time by a non-Jager American since Huling ran 8:13.29 in 2010) and is very good (13th in the world so far this year) but it’s clear that Jager is in another league when it comes to the steeple.

What makes Jager great for the event is that he’s a fast runner who just happens to do the steeple. It seems simple, but it’s not.

There are a lot of guys who are strong 5k/10k types who either can’t adjust to the rhythm-breaking steeplechase or aren’t quick enough for the shorter 3000 distance. And, on the other hand, there are a lot of guy athletic enough for the steeple who just aren’t strong enough runners to find success in flat races. Jager is the best of both worlds. Remember, he’s run 13:02 and made the U.S. team at 5k as a 20-year-old in 2009 and he’s also athletic enough to steeple.

Jager is still only 25, so the U.S. title is a formality for him for the foreseeable future. The big question is whether he can win a medal on the global stage, and after a second-place Diamond League finish in his 2014 debut, the chances of that are growing by the day.

Who else is there?

Jager and Huling should go 1-2, but the battle for third should be interesting. The best bets are former NCAA champ and 2012 Olympic finalist Donn Cabral, who has yet to run a steeple in ’14 but who ran 13:22 for 5k (18-second PR) at Payton Jordan on May 4, and Craig Forys, who has the #3 time in the country right now after running 8:26.30 at Oxy on May 15. 2011 champ Billy Nelson has run 8:28 twice this season and also has a shot at third.

Prediction

1. Jager 2. Huling 3. Cabral

Women’s 3,000 steeplechase

Prelims: Thursday, 10:50 p.m. ET

Final: Saturday, 4:56 p.m. ET

AthleteAffiliationDOBPBSBComment
Emma CoburnNew Balance10.19.19909:17.849:17.84Heavy favorite won USAs in ’11, ’12; #2 on all-time US list; won Shanghai DL on May 18
Stephanie GarciaNew Balance5.3.19889:28.969:28.96Coming off massive 13-second PR at NY DL on June 14
Nicole BushNew Balance4.4.19869:34.769:34.76Defending champ PR’d by 5 secs on June 8 but suddenly only third-favorite
Ashley HigginsonSaucony3.17.19899:34.499:35.722nd last year; only 9:50 at Pre; 8:56 flat 3k at NY DL
Shalaya KippColorado8.19.19909:35.739:39.12Made last two US teams but just 5th at NCAAs on June 13
Bridget FranekOregon TC Elite11.8.19879:29.539:41.21Made US teams in ’09, ’11, ’12 but just 12th last year; won at Portland Track Festival on June 15
Aisha PraughtOregon TC Elite12.14.19899:42.089:42.088-second PR at Payton Jordan
Marisa HowardBoise St.9:43.829:43.82Boise St. junior ran huge 15-sec PR to take 2nd at NCAAs
Rachel JohnsonBaylor4.30.19939:44.479:44.475-sec PR to get 3rd at NCAAs
Sara VaughnBrooks5.16.19869:47.589:48.943rd at Portland Track Festival; 3rd at US indoors in 3k
Jessica KamilosArkansas8.3.19939:49.259:49.257th at NCAAs after PR’ing twice to knock 19 seconds off previous best
Courtney Frerichs1.18.19939:50.429:50.42Won Oxy on May 15
Sarah PeaseAdidas/RogueAC11.9.19879:52.439:53.57Didn’t make final at USAs last year
Addie BracyBrooks / HTS Elite8.4.19869:53.609:53.60Hadn’t run a steeple since 2009 but has brought PR down from 10:16 in second crack at the event in ’14
Grace HeymsfieldArkansas3.4.19929:49.019:49.01SEC champ PR’d by 4 secs to finish 6th at NCAAs
Alicia NelsonAdams St.10.20.19909:54.029:54.02
Mary GoldkampAdidas/RogueAC10.4.19889:54.909:54.94
Carmen Graves9:55.979:55.97
Megan RollandOiselle8.30.19889:56.989:56.98
Rebeka Stowe3.9.19909:52.829:57.37
Kimber Mattox9:57.129:58.26
KaraLyn DeWaltBay Area Track Club7.27.198810:00.4810:00.48
Julia WebbBowerman Track Club2.14.19839:55.3610:02.64
Jordan Hamric10.4.198910:02.8710:02.87
Maggie CallahanHTS Elite9.28.198810:03.0710:03.07
Liberty MillerWashington10:03.3410:03.34
Expect to see something similar at USAs

Expect to see something similar at USAs

Entries subject to change. Check the status of entries here.

Like Jager on the men’s side, there is a similarly dominant figure in the women’s steeplechase: Emma Coburn, who was ninth at the 2012 Olympics and has run over 11 seconds faster than her closest U.S. competitor this season.

While no one is invincible — no one expected her training partner Shalaya Kipp to lose at NCAAs where Kipp was just fifth — Coburn has run well in all three of her outdoor meets so far, taking second behind former World champ Jenny Simpson in a 1500 in Tokyo, winning Shanghai in a PR and setting another PR to take third at the Pre Classic. A loss here by Coburn would definitely be a HUGE surprise.

The other story in this event is the rise of Stephanie Garcia, who ran a big 13-second PR of 9:28.96 to take fourth at the New York Diamond League meet on June 14. Though she’s still not on Coburn’s level, that time makes Garcia #11 in the world this year. If there was a World Championships this summer, she’d have a great chance to place top 10 considering Kenya and Ethiopia only get three entrants each (technically Kenya would get four because the defending champ, Milcah Chemos, would have a bye).

What we’re more interested in, though, is Garcia’s rapid improvement. Initially, we were amazed that she could chop off 13 seconds in one race, but it’s actually not that uncommon in the steeplechase. Garcia ran just 10:05 in 2010 but ran separate PRs of 9, 2, 7 and 6 seconds to get down to 9:41 by the end of 2011. Garcia is not alone, either. In our NCAA men’s steeplechase preview, we noted that 11 of the 24 NCAA qualifiers PR’d by five seconds or more in the East/West preliminary rounds, including two guys who ran 14-second PRs. The trend holds true for the women’s steeple at USAs. Look at how much the following women have dropped their times in 2014:

NamePR before 2014 (year)PR nowDifference (secs)Breakout race
Stephanie Garcia9:41.12 (2011)9:28.96-12.16NY Diamond League, 6/14
Marisa Howard10:01.12 (2013)9:43.82-17.3NCAAs, 6/13
Rachel Johnson10:29.08 (2013)9:44.47-44.61Stanford Invite, 4/4
Jessica Kamilos10:10.11 (2013)9:49.25-20.86NCAAs, 6/13
Addie Bracy10:16.72 (2008)9:53.60-23.12Payton Jordan, 5/4
Carmen Graves10:59.02 (2013)9:55.97-63.05Sea Ray Relays, 4/12
Megan Rolland10:12.95 (2013)9:56.98-15.97Stanford Invite, 4/4

Granted, Garcia dropping from 9:41 is a bit different from someone like Bracy dropping from 10:16 to 9:53, but it’s incredible that seven women — over a quarter of the field — have improved by 12 seconds or more in 2014. There’s also another name that we wish we could put on this list, but she’s not running at USAs — Leah O’Connor of Michigan State, who dropped her PR from 9:53 to 9:36 this year and won NCAAs handily.

In a way, all this improvement makes sense. The steeplechase is an event that takes a while to get down pat and you can improve your times without a jump in fitness by practicing better technique. That still doesn’t explain someone like Graves, though — it’s very rare to improve over a minute from one year to the next in an event shorter than a half-marathon.

One thing is likely: some of these women are not done improving. The race up front might not be that interesting if Coburn runs away from everyone, but there’s another race worth watching: who can run the biggest PR?

Prediction

1. Coburn 2. Garcia 3. Bush