2015 USA Steeple Preview: Evan Jager & Emma Coburn Should Repeat; Can Collegians Colleen Quigley, Courtney Frerichs And Leah O’Connor Grab A Spot To Beijing?

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By LetsRun.com
June 24, 2015

Finally, it’s time to select Team USA for this year’s World Championships in Beijing.

By the end of the day on Sunday, June 28, the team won’t be finalized (some athletes will try to chase the IAAF standard; others may later surrender their spots due to injury) but we’ll have answers to the questions that have been driving conversations in track circles for months. Those include:

  • Can 800 studs Duane Solomon and Nick Symmonds regain their form in time to make another Worlds team?
  • Which of the U.S.’s five sub-2:00 800 women will be left home?
  • Can Ben Blankenship and Boris Berian cap breakout years with a World Championships appearance?
  • Will Ben True finally make a U.S. team on the track?
  • Can 40-year-old Bernard Lagat make his seventh U.S. team?
  • Can NCAA stars Eric JenkinsEmily Sisson and Colleen Quigley make the team?
  • What will Galen Rupp say to the media and how will he perform under intense media scrutiny?

We’ll be previewing all the mid-d/distance events in the ensuing days before the 2015 USATF Outdoor Championships kick off at Hayward Field on Thursday. So far, we’ve covered the men’s and women’s 10,000s, 5,000s1,500s and 800s. Today, it’s time to look at the final event – the men’s and women’s steeplechases.

Below, you can find all the key information for USAs, followed by a preview of the men’s and women’s steeplechases.

Schedule/entries/results * Official USATF site * Entries * TV/streaming information

We’re also running a $200,000 prediction contest offering fabulous prizes, which you can enter here.

As a reminder, the top three finishers in each race with the 8:28.00/9:44.00 IAAF standards qualify to the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing from August 22-30. Athletes have until August 9 to achieve the standard. But there are several other ways to qualify for Worlds without the standard, which we’ve outlined below. Here’s how to qualify:

  • As a result of being one of the best ranked athletes at the end of the qualification period (to fill the remaining places in order to reach the target number of athletes by event established by the IAAF). This target number is 48 for the 800, and 45 for the 1500 and 3,000 steeplechase (athletes cannot qualify this way in the 5,000 or 10,000). So if an athlete places in the top three at USAs and not enough athletes worldwide achieve the IAAF standard, he/she can still make it in by being ranked highly enough on the global descending-order list. We go into more detail about this process here, but suffice to say that it makes it a lot easier for Americans to qualify. When you limit each country to three entrants (four if that country has the defending world/Diamond League champ), the #45 times for the 3000 steeple as of June 22 are 8:35.39 for the men and 9:48.75 for the women.
  • By being the defending World or Diamond League champion in an event. These athletes (Jenny Simpson in the 1500 is the only American in the mid-d/distance events who meets this criteria) only need to compete in one round of any event at USAs to make the team.
  • By placing top three at USAs and winning their event at the 2015 NACAC Championships in San Jose, Costa Rica, from August 7-9.
  • Remember that the priority always goes to the higher finisher at USAs. If Runner A places 3rd at USAs in the 1500 and doesn’t have the IAAF standard by August 9 and Runner B places 4th but does have the IAAF standard, USATF will only enter Runner B if Runner A doesn’t receive an invite from the IAAF based on his ranking on the global descending order list.

Men’s 3000 steeplechase (prelims Friday, 9:10 p.m. ET; final Sunday, 5:06 p.m. ET)

Athletes in bold have IAAF qualifying standard (8:28.00)
2014 USA finish in parentheses

NameAffiliationPRQualifying TimeDescription
Evan Jager (1)Nike / Bowerman Track Club8:04.718:05.283-time defending champ has run 8:05 + 3:32 (!) already this year
Daniel Huling (2)Nike8:13.298:15.61Has made last 3 WC teams
Donn Cabral (3)Nike8:19.078:19.072012 Olympian has already run 8:19 twice in ’15
Stanley KebeneiNike8:23.938:23.93NCAA runner-up at Arkansas in ’14 + ’15
Craig Forys (6)New York Athletic Club (NYAC)8:24.098:24.09No track results in ’15
Andrew Bayer (7)Nike / Bowerman Track Club8:25.718:25.718:26 win at Portland Track Festival on June 14
Cory Leslie (4)Nike8:20.088:25.74Has run 3:35 + 8:25 so far outdoors
Tabor Stevens (11)ASICS8:26.818:26.81NCAA D-II champ in steeple/5k
Travis Mahoney (13)New Jersey New York Track Club8:27.088:27.08
Donald Cowart (5)8:26.388:27.86
Mason Ferlic (9)Michigan8:35.458:35.45
Matt CleaverAdidas/RogueAC8:31.288:36.60
Jackson NeffOhio St.8:36.888:36.88
Mark Parrish8:37.648:37.64
Darren FahyGeorgetown8:38.078:38.07
Brandon DoughtyOklahoma8:38.358:38.35
Benjamin Bruce (10)HOKA ONE ONE NAZ Elite8:19.108:39.44
Dylan LafondIllinois8:41.118:41.11
Tripp HurtFurman8:41.638:41.63
Austin BussingAdidas/RogueAC8:41.718:41.71
Carl Stones8:39.708:42.36
Ryan GilGeorgetown8:42.468:42.46
David GoodmanNE Distance8:44.768:45.38
Hillary Bor8:32.418:45.94
Henry SterlingNE Distance8:46.748:46.74
Jesus Romo (14)8:48.348:49.11
Jager should have no problem sewing up U.S. title #4 on Sunday

Jager should have no problem sewing up U.S. title #4 on Sunday

There may be no bigger favorite in a distance event at USAs than Evan Jager in the men’s steeplechase. The American record holder opened up his season with an 8:05.28 at the Pre Classic (#2 time in U.S. history); he also happens to be the U.S. leader at 1500 meters thanks to his ridiculous 3:32.97 at the Portland Track Festival on June 14. Jager could realistically make Team USA in three events (his 5,000 pb is 13:02) but his easiest path to a medal in Beijing (by far) is in the steeplechase. So that’s the event he’ll run at USAs.

Last year, training partner Dan Huling gave Jager a better battle than we anticipated, but Jager ultimately pulled away after the final water jump to clinch his third straight U.S. title. Jager has trounced Huling in both of their matchups so far in 2015 (he won by 20 seconds in the steeple at Pre and by 5+ seconds in the 1500 in Portland) so it shouldn’t be quite as close this year at USAs. Jager should have no problem becoming the first man since Mark Croghan (1994-97) to win four straight U.S. titles in the steeplechase.

The real drama surrounds who will nab the other two spots to Beijing. Huling has finished second the last two years and has made the last three U.S. Worlds teams, but he’s merely one of a tightly-bunched group of contenders — seven men (including Huling) have run between 8:23.93 and 8:27.86 this year. The favorite for second is the only man besides Jager to break 8:20 this year, former Princeton NCAA champ Donn Cabral. Cabral ran 8:19.24 at Pre and followed that up with a slight PR of 8:19.07 in Oslo on June 11 (Cabral has now run 8:19 four times in his career). He’s run well at USAs in the past (2nd in 2012, 6th in 2013 — despite battling Lyme disease — 3rd in 2014) and should make his second U.S. team, though the gap between him and everyone else is a lot closer than the gap between Jager and Cabral.

Stanley Kebenei, Huling and Cory Leslie are the next three guys on the U.S. list this year. Kebenei, a Kenyan-born Arkansas grad who now has U.S. citizenship, ran 8:23.93 at Payton Jordan (defeating Huling) and took second at NCAAs two weeks ago for the second year in a row. The loss to Anthony Rotich devastated Kebenei, but he spoke confidently about his chances of making the team after that race. Huling, who turns 32 next month, is consistent and knows how to make U.S. teams, but he’s behind where he was at this point last year (he ran 8:17 and 8:15 in his two steeples before USAs). Leslie has the best speed of the bunch — better than anyone in the field, save Jager. Indoors, he ran 1:47/2:20 and finished fourth at USAs in the 1k; outdoors, he’s already run 3:35. His 8:25 in Prague on June 8 was his fastest steeple since May 2013 (and his second-fastest, period), so he appears to be in good form.

Andy BayerTabor StevensTravis Mahoney and Donnie Cowart are the other men to have run the IAAF standard this year, but none of them have shown quite what it takes to make a U.S. team yet in their careers. If one is going to break through, it will likely be Bayer, given that he trains with Jager and Huling and is coming off an 8:26.75 solo win at the Portland Track Festival. It’s likely going to take sub-8:20 (or a sub-8:20 effort) to make the team and he’s the one most capable of delivering that given his training/coaching situation and speed background (2012 NCAA 1500 champ).

LRC Prediction: 1. Jager 2. Cabral 3. Leslie

Women’s 3000 steeplechase (prelims Thursday, 10:05 p.m. ET; final Saturday, 4:55 p.m. ET)

Athletes in bold have IAAF qualifying standard (9:44.00)
2014 USA finish in parentheses

NameAffiliationPRQualifying TimeDescription
Emma Coburn (1)New Balance9:11.429:11.42Defending champ has yet to run steeple in ’15 but did PR at 1500 (4:05.10)
Stephanie Garcia (3)New Balance9:24.289:24.28PRs at 1500 (4:05.39) + 5k (15:19) to go with 9:27 steeple in ’15
Nicole Bush (8)New Balance9:24.599:24.592013 champ’s ’15 best is 9:44
Ashley Higginson (2)Saucony9:27.599:27.59PR’d in 5k (15:18) at Payton Jordan; 2nd in NYC DL (9:31)
Colleen QuigleyFlorida St.9:29.329:29.32NCAA champ and third-fastest collegian ever
Courtney Frerichs (6)UMKC9:31.369:31.36NCAA runner-up and fourth-fastest collegian ever
Leah O’ConnorMichigan St.9:33.389:33.383rd NCAAs (#5 all-time NCAA); ’14 NCAA champ and ’15 NCAA indoor mile champ
Bridget FranekTeam Run Eugene9:29.539:36.882012 Olympian was 6th in NYC DL
Marisa HowardBoise St.9:37.849:37.844th at NCAAs (PR’d by 6 secs); 2nd at NCAAs in ’14
Rachel Johnson (5)Baylor9:41.569:41.566th at NCAAs
Shalaya Kipp (7)Oiselle9:35.739:44.41Made last 2 U.S. teams but 3 in a row will be tough
Carmen Graves (10)Brooks9:47.289:47.28
Sarah Pease (13)Adidas/RogueAC9:48.949:48.94
Collier LawrenceOiselle / Oiselle-OR9:50.479:50.47
Kimber MattoxTeam Run Eugene9:51.299:51.29
Rebeka StoweNew Jersey New York Track Club9:52.829:53.18
Mary GoldkampAdidas/RogueAC9:53.459:53.45
Megan RollandOiselle9:53.819:53.81
Tori GerlachPenn St.9:53.989:53.98
Emily RitterRider9:54.349:54.34
Maddie Van BeekNorth Dakota St.9:54.429:54.42
Emily OrenHillsdale9:54.439:54.43
Elizabeth Graney9:53.859:54.77
Jamie CheeverBrooks / Club Northwest9:29.139:54.96
Addie BracyBrooks / HTS Elite9:53.609:57.10
Jordan HamricOiselle9:58.659:58.65

Long a moribund event in the United States, the women’s steeplechase has developed into one of the most exciting races at these championships thanks to an influx of young talent and steady development from pros such as Emma CoburnStephanie Garcia and Ashley Higginson. Already this year, eight women have run the IAAF standard of 9:44.00 and we’ve seen two different women finish in the top four in Diamond League races — and neither of them were named Coburn. We’re also coming off the women’s steeple’s best year ever at the NCAA level, as Colleen Quigley (Florida State), Courtney Frerichs (UMKC) and Leah O’Connor (Michigan State) all put themselves in the NCAA’s top five all-time at the NCAA championships two weeks ago. That race was so fast that O’Connor, the defending champ (and NCAA indoor mile champ) PR’d and still only managed to finish third.

All of which sets the stage for a terrific women’s steeple final on Saturday. Coburn remains the big favorite, despite having run zero steeples in 2015 (according to the Daily Relay, she didn’t want to travel a lot early in the season). In 2014, she put together the best year ever by an American steepler, running the U.S.’s top seven times, including the fastest-ever by an American (but not an American record) with her 9:11.42 in Glasgow. Coburn is in fine shape at the moment — she PR’d in the 1500 at the Pre Classic, running 4:05.10 — so the only concern about her at USAs is rust. She’ll have the prelim to get back into the swing of racing, and it would be foolish to bet against her in the final given how thoroughly she dominated the American steeple scene last year.

The two women who finished directly behind Coburn at USAs last year — Higginson and Garcia — have been running great across a variety of distances this spring, and they’re the leading candidates for spots #2 and #3 to Beijing. Higginson ran 15:18 for 5,000 at Payton Jordan (16 seconds faster than her PR in that race last year) and finished second at the adidas Grand Prix on June 13, behind only 2014 world #1 Hiwot Ayalew of Ethiopia. Higginson’s 9:31 in that race was a solid time given the hot conditions and is a good sign for her chances at USAs. Both the adidas Grand Prix and last year’s USA final (where Higginson was second) were run in 90-degree temps and with a high of 99 in Eugene on Saturday afternoon, Higginson’s ability to run well in the heat will be valuable.

Garcia has likewise been busy in 2015. She opened her outdoor season with a 24-second PR of 15:19 for 5,000 at Payton Jordan (finishing just behind Higginson) and followed that up with a steeple win at Oxy (beating Higginson by four seconds) and a big 4:05.39 1500 pb at Furman on May 30. Her second steeple of the year in Birmingham didn’t produce the PR that Garcia was hoping for (the race was run without a rabbit and the winning time was just 9:24) but Garcia was competitive with some of the world’s best steeplers, running 9:27.92 (U.S. #1) for fourth. As good as the collegians have been this year, she and Higginson are a cut above them right now.

O'Connor and Quigley have helped to make 2015 a year to remember in the women's steeplechase

O’Connor and Quigley battled it out two weeks ago at NCAAs

That could change this weekend, however. Quigley (9:29, U.S. #2), Frerichs (9:31, U.S. #4) and O’Connor (9:33, U.S. #5) will all challenge for a spot on the team. Quigley, especially, could give Higginson and Garcia a real run for their money. Several times after in her post-NCAA final interview, the Florida State grad noted how good she felt despite the hot pace, suggesting a time in the low-9:20s might be possible at USAs. Her PRs at other distances (4:11 1500, 15:58 5,000) aren’t as strong as Higginson/Garcia’s, but at 22, she does have the most room for improvement. It also wouldn’t be a shock to see O’Connor turn the tables on Quigley and Frerichs and beat them at USAs. Remember, O’Connor won NCAAs last year and destroyed Quigley — and everyone else — in the mile at NCAA indoors, running 4:27.18 (only Jenny Simpson has gone faster in college). O’Connor sported a positive attitude after NCAAs despite finishing third and with far less pressure on her at USAs, she may surprise. Plus, who knows if her falling in the stands the day before the steeple final impacted her at NCAAs?

One other woman who figured to be a factor was Aisha Praught, who ran 4:05 for 1500 in May, but the 9:34 steepler (fourth last year at USAs) has switched allegiances to Jamaica and will represent them at Worlds.

Coburn is a lock for the team, and while it should be a good battle for the second and third spots behind her, we’ll go with the more-experienced Higginson and Garcia for the other two spots. Both have made U.S. teams in the past, both have run faster than any of the collegians (Higginson’s PR is 9:27, Garcia’s 9:24) and both are running extremely well in 2015. Quigley, Frerichs and O’Connor are the future of the event, but they’ll have to wait at least one more year to put on that USA singlet.

LRC Prediction: 1. Coburn 2. Garcia 3. Higginson