July 12, 2014
Emma Coburn, American record holder. That sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?
Coburn has been on fire in 2014, and today at the Sainsbury’s Glasgow Grand Prix, she set her fourth personal best of the season, but this one was special and historic as she eclipsed Jenny Simpson’s American record of 9:12.50 from 2009 by running 9:11.42, a mark that makes Coburn the 11th-fastest performer in history.
Coburn finished second in the race to Ethiopian Hiwot Ayalew (world-leading 9:10.64), who, in a repeat of their race in Paris a week ago, sat on Coburn until the final lap before using her speed to pull away coming off the final water jump.
“It’s just incredible (to be the American record holder),” said Coburn to the BBC’s Phil Jones after the race. “Doing two kilometers alone is really difficult and it was a little breezy, so when Ayalew came up with 300 to go it was identical to Paris and I just tried to tell myself, ‘Try and be with her at the water,’ and unfortunately my water wasn’t beautiful and hers was so she beat me out of there, but second place and the American record, I’m happy.”
As she has all season, Coburn went straight to the front in this one and sat right on the rabbit’s shoulder. After a lap and a half, Coburn had a small gap on Kenyan Lidya Chepkurui and American Stephanie Garcia, with Ayalew well back in the single-file field in second-to-last. The rabbit Virginia Nyambura hit 1k at 3:03.00 with Coburn behind her but after she dropped out Coburn couldn’t keep up the same pace, running the second kilometer in 3:07.18 to pass 2k in 6:10.18. She would need a final kilometer of 3:02 or faster to break Simpson’s record.
At that point, Coburn and Ayalew had separated themselves and had a gap of over 20 meters on the three person pack, which consisted of defending world champ Milcah Chemos, Ethiopian Tigist Getnet and Garcia. Knowing she needed to close hard for the American record, Coburn continued to press up front and hit the bell with Ayalew on her shoulder in 8:02.8 requiring a 70-second last lap for the record. The winner would be one of those two women as they had about 30 meters on the field by that point.
Entering the back stretch, Ayalew took the lead but struggled to shake Coburn and as they headed into the final turn, Coburn attempted to re-pass but could not get around. The two were stride-for-stride as they hit the water jump. Coburn stumbled slightly as she landed in the water pit and that was the only opening Ayalew needed as she put a gap on Coburn entering the final straight. Coburn wouldn’t let Ayalew pull away but the Ethiopian wasn’t letting up either. Ayalew held on for the win in 9:10.64 but you could tell Coburn knew the record was close as she was really digging over the final meters.
As Coburn approached the finish line, she knew the record was hers as she put her arms up in celebration. It took a second for Coburn’s time to come up, 9:11.64, a new American record and a time bettered by just 10 women in world history.
Quick Take #1: That’s how you run an American record.
This race will go down in history because of Coburn’s American record, but even if you toss out the times, this was a great race (both in terms of their being a great battle for the win and the quality of times behind it). Coburn once again did all the work and even though she was passed with 300 to go, she came back and drew level with Ayalew by the water jump. You can’t ask for much more in a steeple than having two runners crest the water jump simultaneously.
The other reason we loved this race is because of how Coburn ran it. All too often this season, we’ve seen runners in the distance races let the rabbits go in Diamond League races. That’s not how Coburn operates. Coburn won in Shanghai after she was the only one to go with the rabbits (it helped that runner-up Sofia Assefathought Coburn was a rabbit herself) and she has continued to push the pace in the rest of her races in 2014, most recently in Paris last week.
It’s a smart strategy for Coburn for two reasons. First, leading in the steeplechase offers an advantage that leading a flat race doesn’t — it gives you a clean run-up to each barrier. Second, Coburn, Ayalew and Assefa are so far ahead of the rest of the world’s steeplechasers this season that it makes sense to run off the competition early. The steeple isn’t like the 5000 where you can get a pack of guys working together to catch a breakaway leader up front. It’s too short and too hard to remain as a pack to reel someone in, especially if they’re as good as Coburn is.
Coburn told us after Shanghai that she was only focused on hitting her splits in that race, and that’s how she’s run all season. Coburn has been unafraid to lead all season and she’s been rewarded for it again and again. Today was the biggest reward of all — an American record.
Quick Take #2: This race was basically a carbon copy of last week’s DL race in Paris.
How similar were the two races? Let us count the ways:
Both races had a first kilometer of 3:03. Both races had a second kilometer of 3:10. Both races came down to Ayalew and Coburn. Ayalew made her move on the backstretch in both races. Both races had the same result: Ayalew first, Coburn second.
The biggest difference was the last kilometer. In Paris, Coburn closed in 3:03.29. That’s very good. But in Glasgow, Coburn closed in 3:01.24. That’s exceptional.
We went back and timed Coburn’s last two laps (inside water jump).
Penultimate lap: 73.8
Last Lap: 68.6
Quick Take #3: The weather was perfect for Coburn
Coburn told us after Pre that she likes to race when it’s cool and wet and though there wasn’t any rain during the race, it was 64 degrees and overcast in Glasgow. You couldn’t ask for much better for Coburn’s taste.
Quick Take #4: Coburn wasn’t the only athlete to a set a national record. Many of the women behind her had HUGE PBs.
Sweden’s 29-year old Charlotta Fougberg set a new Swedish record of 9:23.96 for fourth, smashing her own national record of 9:34.61
25-year old Finn Sandra Eriksson similarly destroyed her own Finnish record of 9:34.71 by running 9:24.70.
Tigist Getnet of Ethiopia, who just turned 17 on Monday, set a World Youth best of 9:28.36. We believe her PB coming in was 10:00 which she ran to win the Ethiopian champs on June 15.
2012 NCAA runner-up Genevieve LaCaze of Australia didn’t get a national record but she did PR at 9:33.19 for 9th (previous pb of 9:37:16).
Finally, American Stephanie Garcia ran a small PR of 9:24.28 (she ran 9:24.35 in Paris)
Quick Take #5: Coburn also said after the race she was thrilled the crowd which really got into this race on the last lap.
Above, we told you how Coburn reacted on the BBC broadcast when asked about being the new American record holder. They also asked her how much was she inspired by the crowd.
Coburn told the BBC’s Jones, “It was great having them cheering me on. I know I’m American and that most of these fans are cheering on English and Scottish athletes, so I felt really lucky that they were giving me enthusiasm and were rooting for me.”
Quick Take #6: 2012 and 2013 steeple bronze medallist Sofia Assefa, who won the DL meets this year in Eugene and New York, had a good reason for being a DNS in this one.
Assefa was entered but lost her passport and wasn’t able to get to the UK.
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