July 7, 2016
EUGENE, Ore. — In a steeplechase final worthy of the Olympic Trials, American record holder Emma Coburn came through as the favorite and got the win in a Trials-record 9:17.48, but the real drama was the battle for second and third. With 600 to go, the top three was Coburn, Stephanie Garcia and Leah O’Connor. A lap and a half later, both Garcia and O’Connor had cratered and the second and third finishers were the last two NCAA champions in the event, Courtney Frerichs (9:20.92) and Colleen Quigley (9:21.29), who both PR’d in the most important race of their lives. O’Connor, who ran the third-fastest time ever by an American earlier this year at Pre (9:18.85), totally fell apart over the final 500. It took Garcia longer to feel the hurt, but after being passed by Frerichs and Quigley on the final turn, she went down on the final barrier. Before the fall, her Olympic dreams were likely already gone, but the fall officially extinguished them and it definitely cost her a spot as Garcia ended up fifth (9:28.99) after being nipped at the line for fourth by 2012 NCAA champ and Olympian Shalaya Kipp (9:28.72). O’Connor faded all the way to last (9:59.03) after a disastrous 1:44 last lap.
Ashley Higginson (9th, 9:38.55) was assertive early, taking the field through the first lap in 72.9. Stephanie Garcia was right on her shoulder while Emma Coburn hugged the rail in third and Leah O’Connor, Colleen Quigley, Bridget Franek and Courtney Frerichs lurked in 4-5-6-7.
The leaders split 2:29.0 at the second lap and by the 1000, Garcia had taken the lead from Higginson. With Megan Rolland (7th, 9:35.31 pb) and Shalaya Kipp in contact at four laps to go, all of the key contenders were in position.
Garcia maintained the lead, crossing four laps in 5:01.4. At 2K, a group of five had separated from Higginson and Franek. Coburn moved to the lead at this point, with Garcia, O’Connor, Quigley and Frerichs making up the top five.
With three to go, it was Coburn, then Garcia opening up two steps on O’Connor, who was five meters up on Quigley. Frerichs was 15 meters back in fifth and apparently out of the action.
It remained that way until the penultimate water jump, when O’Connor came down awkwardly and lost a lot momentum. Quigley soon sped past O’Connor, who completely cratered the rest of the race as her last lap was a unmitigated 1:44.97 disaster, into third and never looked back as soon she was closing down on Garcia, who was falling behind Coburn with every step.
At the bell, Coburn was 3/4 of a second clear of Garcia who a second clear of Quigley who was in the final Olympic spot by over a second and a half ahead of Frerichs.
Frerichs was not done and made a huge charge on the backstretch. Heading into the final water jump Quigley and Frerichs stormed by Garcia to secure second and third place behind Coburn, who moved away from the field with ease to win in 9:17.48. Frerichs (9:20.92, a PR) and Quigley (9:21.29, also a PR) joined her on the team.
Adding insult to injury, Garcia fell over the final barrier and was caught by a fast-closing Kipp (9:28.72, yet another PR) for fourth.
Nike Bowerman TC
Nike Bowerman TC
Brooks / Team Run Eugene
Quick Take: Emma Coburn remains the queen of the steeple
In our pre-meet preview, we called this the deepest steeple field in American history. That’s true as the talent on the line was staggering but Coburn is a class above. Tonight’s win was her third in a row and fifth in six years.
QT: What a race.
In the last 600, you saw the spectacle that we call the US Olympic Trials in all its glory. Unscripted drama at its finest.
Coburn’s Olympic spot and win never seemed to be in doubt but who would get 2nd and 3rd? You had four people battling it out for just two spots.
It wasn’t just dramatic; the quality of this race was astounding. Before tonight, only three Americans had ever broken 9:22 (Coburn, O’Connor, Jenny Simpson). To make the team tonight, you had to run 9:21 or faster.
QT: Could You Imagine Making the Olympic Team Alongside a High School Rival? That’s What Frerichs and Quigley Did Tonight.
Both Frerichs (Nixa HS) and Quigley (Nerinx Hall HS) are from Missouri, and both graduated high school in 2011. Pretty amazing that two women from the same state (one that ranks 18th in population) and same year made the Olympic team in the same event.
And for the record, in their senior year of high school, Quigley beat Frerichs in the Missouri state meet their senior year in cross country (results below), but neither of them won it. So if nothing else, Samantha Nightingale can say she smoked two future Olympians her senior year of high school.
MSHSAA Class 4 State Championships (November 6, 2010)
Oak Hills Golf Center, Jefferson City, Missouri
1. Samantha Nightingale (Blue Springs South), 17:59
3. Colleen Quigley (Nerinx Hall), 18:25
54. Courtney Frerichs (Nixa), 20:09
QT: Emma Coburn: “I don’t think anyone is unbeatable”
Ruth Jebet (8:59) and Hyvin Kiyeng (9:00) ran the second- and third-fastest times in history this year at Pre, but Coburn thinks she can run faster than the 9:10 American record she set in the same race and said that anyone can be beaten in a championship race. She also said she liked that Jebet and Kiyeng are front-runners.
“If they want to do it, that’s great and I’ll be chasing them trying to run them down.”
QT: Frerichs: “I crossed with 400 to go in fourth and I just told myself I was not going to be getting fourth today”
Frerichs looked as if she was out of it with two laps to go but she caught a second wind late and closed really well — her 69.96 lap was the fastest of anyone in the field. That, coupled with O’Connor and Garcia slowing down, allowed her to make her first Olympic team easily in the end.
“At 800 [to go], I was hurting pretty bad,” Frerichs said. “I haven’t been in a race where I’ve had people in front of me [this year]. Then once I got to 600 and I was starting to catch Leah again, I kind of got a second wind, a glimpse of hope. I crossed with 400 to go in fourth and I just told myself I was not going to be getting fourth today. I was gonna push that last 400. I had a lot of confidence in my last 400 because in my other two hard steeples [this year], I was able to close pretty fast. So I just kind of channeled that confidence in the last 400.”
QT: Colleen Quigley Said It Was Intimidating to Come Into The Final Knowing She Had to Run Fast Despite Running No Steeples Before the Trials
Quigley said that it was a bit scary to know she had to run a lot faster than her 9:37 from the prelims to make the team but she tried not to focus on the clock in tonight’s final.
“I assumed that I was going to have to run at least as fast as I ever have, probably faster,” Quigley said. “In my head, I thought it very well could well take 9:20 to make this team and that was super scary coming into it.”
QT: 2012 Olympian Shalaya Kipp PR’d by 7 Seconds But Was Still 7 Seconds Short of the Olympic Team
If you want an example of how much the women’s steeple has grown in the U.S. over the past four years, look no further than Shalaya Kipp. In 2012, Kipp entered the Trials with a 9:43 pb and wound up making the team after running an eight-second pb of 9:35 in the final. Tonight, she ran a seven-second pb of 9:28 but that was barely good enough for fourth as she nipped Garcia right at the line.
“I was happy to get to fourth but fourth actually sucks at this meet….I should be happy with it, it’s a season’s best. Training’s going the right way. So overall, just keep on training.”
QT: Stephanie Garcia “Gave It Everything” She Had
In her post-race interview, Stephanie Garcia was surprisingly composed for someone who had come one final home stretch away from achieving her Olympic goal. As the women around her cried and mourned their crushed dreams, Garcia answered questions cooly and calmly although she admitted “Of course, getting away from the cameras I’ll be sad”.
Garcia had no regrets on the race saying, “I gave it everything I had. And I knew if I wasn’t making the team I was going to make the girls who did work really really hard.” She definitely accomplished that as three of the four women who beat her set PRs and Coburn wasn’t too far off of hers. On just missing out on the Olympics, Garcia explained that earlier in the year she was putting a lot of pressure on herself and finally came to a place where she said, “You know what? I’m going to do everything I can and if it doesn’t play out, it doesn’t play out.” She added, “As we’ve seen these Trials, there are a lot of amazing athletes who are not Olympians. Hopefully I’m one of them.”
Garcia said her fall on the final barrier was just from “fatigue and scrambling” to get up with the other two and that she had been “worn out a bit” with the fast pace and helping push from the front. She was happy that if she didn’t make the team, the people who did had to set PRs to do it. Even with the fall, Garcia was only 5 seconds off her 9:23 PR from when she was 2nd at USAs last year.
QT: Leah O’Connor revealed post-race she’s been dealing with a “partial tear” in her right plantar fascia
After the race, O’Connor limped through the mixed zone supported by fellow Michigan Staters Nicole Bush and Katie Landwehr and didn’t come back to talk to the media. She released the following statement via Instagram.
Thank you to all of my beautiful friends and family who have poured out so much love and support my way. I want you to know that I’m alright; without your encouragement I wouldn’t have even had the courage to make it to the starting line at the Olympic Trials today. I have been training through a partial tear in my right plantar fascia for the past 7 weeks. Running 75-80 mile weeks/cross training, avoiding racing in spikes, and pushing through workouts in varying amounts of pain… pressing my luck and my foot as far as I could without having to be sidelined entirely in an attempt to be an Olympian this year. Steepling two times in four days may have just been more than my foot and body could handle right now. I’m heartbroken, mostly because it was so much hard work. But I know the Lord has a plan for the good and the bad. I’m going to finally get to heal up around loved ones. Congratulations to Emma, Colleen and Courtney for making the team in Rio! You’re bold, strong, fast women and you’re going to represent team USA so well.
QT: The PR Train For Megan Rolland Continued
Rolland, who started the year with a 9:53 pb, finished 7th tonight in yet another pb of 9:35.31. If only she could go back in time 4 years. In 2012, Shalaya Kipp made the team after runnning 9:35.73.
The 27-year-old Rolland, who quit her nursing job to go all in on running, wouldn’t commit to another four more years of full-time running but did promise us she’d at least go through 2017.
QT: A Distraught Ashley Higginson Felt Like She Let A Lot Of People Down Today
Higginson, who four years ago finished fourth when she ran 9:38.04 but was only 9th tonight when she ran 9:38.55, felt like her team got her ready but she simply didn’t produce which caused her to break down in tears in the mixed zone.
QT: Bridget Franek’s Career Nears Its End: “Track has gotten me really far….I’m just grateful to have all the experiences I’ve had.”
Four years ago at the Trials, Bridget Franek was the woman finishing behind Emma Coburn, and as a result she was a 2012 Olympian. Today, things didn’t turn out as well as Franek as she was 6th in 9:33.51.
To show how far women’s steepling has improved in the last four years, Franek, despite finishing sixth was hoping she PR’d. When LRC told her in the mixed zone she ran in the 9:30s (her PR is 9:29.53) Franek said, “Man that makes me feel even worse.”
Franek was emotional in the mixed zone as she looked back on her career. This may have been her final track race (she hasn’t decided if she’ll still compete this year) as she wants to move to obstacle racing next year. Franek is the Warrior Dash World Champion, but considers Warrior Dash to be the minor leagues of obstacle racing. “That’s just the beginner (level of obstacle racing). Those (Warrior Dash) are the dinky ones. I’m hoping to move up to Spartan and Battlefrog,” said Franek.
But tonight was about track and field and Franek was grateful for what our sport had given her, “I had a lot of great opportunities. Track has gotten me really far. Places I never dreamed I could go, obviously that’s the cliche but it really did. I’m just grateful to have all the experiences I’ve had.”
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