Emma Coburn Pulls A Meb: Gaps The Field Early, Runs PR and Stunningly Wins The Women’s Steeple in Shanghai

Coburn Steals The Steeplechase In Shanghai, Gets Win In New Pb of 9:19.80

by LetsRun.com
May 18, 2014

History does indeed repeat itself.

Four weeks ago, American running fans got a real thrill when the top runners from Africa let American Meb Keflezighi get out to a big early lead when running a modest pace by world standards at the 2014 Boston Marathon. They’d regret it later when Meb held wonderfully and emerged with a stunning victory.

Stealing a marathon is one thing, but a steeplechase?

Yes indeed.

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Tonight (morning in the US) in the second IAAF Diamond League meeting of the year in Shanghai, two-time US and NCAA champion Emma Coburn, who runs professionally for New Balance, gapped the field on the first lap, built up a 12+ second lead by 2k and held on for a dominant and surprising victory in a world leading and personal best time of 9:19.80. 2012 and 2013 bronze medallist Sofia Assefa of Ethiopia was second in 9:25.76 with her countrywoman Hiwot Ayalew (4th worlds, 5th Olympics) third in 9:27.25.

Emma Coburn's lead was gigantic at 2k Emma Coburn’s lead was gigantic at 2k

The Race

From the gun, Coburn was the only runner in the field to go with the rabbit Virginia Nyambura. Coburn and Nyambura opened up a gap on the field on the first lap and would only extend it.

The early pace was very modest by world standards. The first 1k was run in 3:08.23 by the rabbit and Coburn. That’s 9:24 pace – a time bettered by 8 women in the world last year – but perfect for Coburn as her pb coming in was 9:23.54. Emma was now on her own as the rabbit only went 1000m. By 2k (6:15.58), both Coburn’s pace and lead increased. She led by more than 12 seconds as the chasers were running just 9:40 pace.

When would the field start to come back on Coburn? Could the field make up 5 seconds a lap on her? Will never know as the field did not begin their chase until the bell. At the bell (8:07 for Coburn), the race barring a fall was over as Coburn still led by 12 + seconds. Coburn didn’t play it safe over the final 400. She picked it up and ripped of a 72.72 last lap as she was not only going for victory, but also a PR and the first sub-9:20 clocking of her career.

Coburn won in style as her 9:19.60 was nearly four seconds better than the 9:23.54 she ran in the London Olympic final where she was 9th. Assefa outkicked Ayalew for second as they trimmed half of Coburn’s lead on the final lap. This however was Emma Coburn’s day. As Meb Keflezighi showed in the Boston marathon, sometimes victory goes to the brave. Coburn picked up $10,000 for the win.

Quick Thought #1: A great victory for Coburn.

Our thoughts after this one are similar to what they were after Meb won Boston. Coburn deserves a ton of credit for running her own race, running a PR and not cratering at all. Her last 1k was her fastest!

This made for some good tv for American track fans who got up early to watch this one. A great opener for Coburn apart from the win. Can she challenge Jenny Simpson’s American Record (9:12.50) by the end of the year?

Quick Thought #2: We have no idea what the field was thinking on this one. Total stupidity. The woman who has dominated the DL circuit in recent years has been Kenya’s Milcah Chemos. The 2013 world champion was a distant eighth in 9:38.21 today. A surprise based on her credentials but not if you read letsrun.com as we found a pre-race article from Kenya where she admitted she’s not in great shape this year (Steeple champ Chemos: “I wouldn’t say I am in my best shape like last year.”).

Perhaps a few women were keying off of Chemos, but it was just crazy how no one in the field gained on Coburn between 2k and the bell. Yes Coburn’s last 1k of 3:04.12 was her fastest of the night, but she didn’t really pick it up until her last lap of 72. Regardless, as well as Coburn held up, in hindsight, this race for all practical purposes was over a 2k. The chasers were roughly 6:27-8 at 2k, meaning they’d have to run 2:52 to catch Coburn.

As slow as the field ran today for the first 3k, the crazy thing is Tim Hutchings on the broadcast said the target pace for the rabbit was supposed to be a quick 3:02 for 1000m. He said, World Champion Milcah Chemos (9:07 pb) had wanted an even faster pace which makes zero sense since she told the Kenyan press she wasn’t in shape.

No one was catching her at the bell but Coburn picked it up to PR No one was catching her at the bell but Coburn picked it up to PR

Quick Thought #3: What does 9:19 normally get you in a women’s Diamond League steeple? Well we’ve done a little bit of research.

Last year, the winning times on the DL circuit were as follows: 9:13, 9: 16, 9:30 (New York), 9:17, 9:14, 9:17, 9:15.

Coburn’s time would have placed her 7th, 3rd, 1st, 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 4th on the DL circuit last year. If Chemos is offer her game and suffering a post-Worlds hangover, then one might think Coburn’s time would have got her second or third – but not first. But maybe none of the Kenyas are in shape. The silver medallist from Moscow, fellow Kenyan Lidya Chepkurui finished worse than Chemos, ninth in 9:38.82.

The women’s steeple certainly isn’t a very deep event and hasn’t moved forward like Jenny Simpson thought it would when she gave up the event after running an American record of 9:12.50 at the 2009 World Championships, but only placing fifth. Simpson thought sub-9s were going to soon become commonplace (the world record is 8:58.81) but if anything the event as a whole has gone backwards at the truly elite level as zero women last year broke 9:11.

With the Kenyans off their game, we guess it was up to Assefa to lead the chase pack but Assefa doesn’t really have a winners mindset. Remember, she’s the one who was 2nd or 3rd in all eight of her steeples last year.

Messabeoard Reaction: *Emma Coburn pulls a Meb – gaps field early and shockingly wins Shanghai DL *EMMA MF COBURN!!!


Do not adjust your screen - the final backstretch Do not adjust your screen – the final backstretch

Rank Athlete Nation Time
1 COBURN Emma USA 9:19.80
2 ASSEFA Sofia ETH 9:25.76
3 AYALEW Hiwot ETH 9:27.25
4 KIRUI Purity KEN 9:33.24
5 EL OUALI ALAMI Salima MAR 9:34.23
6 ADAMU Birtukan ETH 9:35.51
7 DIRO NEDA Etenesh ETH 9:36.45
8 CHEMOS Milcah KEN 9:38.21
9 CHEPKURUI Lidya KEN 9:38.82
10 CHEROTICH Fancy KEN 9:41.22
11 KIPKEMOI Gladys Jerotich KEN 9:46.81
12 MASAI Magdalene KEN 9:52.97
13 BEKELE Mekdes ETH 9:59.62
14 CHEEVER Jamie USA 10:05.68
15 WANG Mei CHN 10:26.43

Intermediate times:
1000m NYAMBURA, Virginia (KEN) 3:08.23
2000m COBURN, Emma (USA) 6:15.58

A look of disbelief after the race A look of disbelief after the race
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