US Olympic Trials Women’s Steeplechase: Emma Coburn Leads the Best U.S. Steeple Field Ever

July 3, 2016

One of the greatest events in track and field — the United States Olympic Team Trials — are upon us. No domestic event holds more significance or produces more drama than this meet, which will be held at Hayward Field from July 1-10. will have all hands on deck, providing wall-to-wall coverage from Eugene over the next two weeks. Below is our look at the women’s 3000-meter steeplechase.

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*Schedule/entries * TV/streaming information * LRC Trials coverage hub

LRC Event Previews: M 10k * W 10k * M 800 * W 800

Women’s 3,000 steeplechase (prelims Monday, July 4, 7:03 p.m. ET; final Thursday, July 7, 10:48 p.m. ET) *Rio Standard is 9:45.00

Name Affiliation Qualifying time SB Comment
Emma Coburn New Balance 9:10.76 9:10.76 Returned from winter injury with a vengeance this spring breaking the AR at the Pre Classic. The clear favorite here and a medal threat in Rio.
Leah O’Connor adidas 9:18.85 9:18.85 Big breakthrough at Pre with 9:18. Hasn’t raced since, but if in that shape will make Coburn work for it.
Stephanie Garcia New Balance 9:23.48 9:35.89 Runner-up last year and 9th at Worlds. Only 10th place in Stockholm, but has set PBs at 1500, mile, 3000 and 5000 this year.
Courtney Frerichs 9:24.41 9:24.41 Won NCAAs with a new collegiate record. Undefeated in steeples this year.
Colleen Quigley Nike BTC / Bowerman Track Club 9:24.92 No Mark Made World team last year (12th in Beijing), but was injured in the fall/winter and has only raced once in 2016 (a 4:12 1500 win over Mary Cain).
Ashley Higginson Saucony 9:31.32 9:29.77 5th at USAs last year, but runner-up in 2014 and 2013. 4th at the last Trials. Won her last race in a PB on June 18th.
Marie Lawrence Oiselle 9:36.55 9:36.55 Will be her first USAs appearance since she was 5th in 2009. This season was also the first time she’s PR’d since then.
Megan Rolland Oiselle 9:36.88 9:36.88 Didn’t make the final last year, but set a huge 15-second PB in her last race on June 12th.
Bridget Franek Brooks / Team Run Eugene 9:36.88 9:49.37 Made the team in 2012, but best finish of 8th since then. Didn’t open her outdoor season until June 12th.
Shalaya Kipp Oiselle 9:37.09 9:42.31 2012 Olympian, but only 6th and 7th last two years. DNF at Pre steeple, 4:13 1500 in June.
Jamie Cheever Oiselle / Club Northwest 9:37.12 9:37.12 12th last year, but almost made 2013 World squad (4th). 1500 PB of 4:11 on June 12th.
Nicole Bush New Balance 9:39.84 9:39.84 2013 US champion, but was only 11th and 8th last two years.
Sarah Pease 9:40.94 9:40.94
Jessica Kamilos 9:41.28 9:41.28
Rachel Johnson ASICS 9:42.93 9:46.87
Megan Patrignelli Team Run Eugene 9:43.37 9:43.37
Elinor Purrier New Hampshire 9:47.17 9:47.17
Maddie Van Beek Brooks 9:47.74 9:47.74
Emily Ritter New Jersey New York Track Club 9:48.29 9:48.29
Erin Clark Colorado 9:48.72 9:48.72
Danielle Winslow Boston College 9:48.81 9:48.81
Devin Clark Arkansas 9:49.25 9:49.25
Alexina Wilson Oiselle 9:50.07 9:50.07
Paige Kouba Harvard 9:50.21 9:50.21
Collier Lawrence Oiselle 9:50.47 10:04.89
Emily Oren 9:50.54 9:58.99
Sarah Boyle Saucony 9:50.57 9:50.57
Madelin Talbert Lipscomb 9:50.57 9:55.79
Brianna Nerud Oregon 9:50.90 9:50.90
Erica Richardson Boise Betties 9:51.48 9:51.48
Nicol Traynor Hoka One One / New Jersey New York Track Club 9:51.51 9:51.51
Elizabeth Graney 9:51.86 9:51.86
Katie Landwehr Michigan St. 9:52.29 9:52.29 Hasn’t declared yet
Carmen Graves Brooks / Adidas Garden State Track Club 9:52.61 9:52.61
Becky Wade ASICS 9:52.62 9:52.62 USATF accepted her third appeal + put her in field
Rena Williams-Chesser 9:52.66 9:52.66

The women’s steeplechase hasn’t been around long — the event made its World Championship debut in 2005 and its Olympic debut in 2008 — but the field at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials is undoubtedly the greatest American field ever assembled. The U.S. all-time list is below, with athletes in bold competing at the Trials:

Coburn won her fourth U.S. title at Hayward Field in 2015 Coburn won her fourth U.S. title at Hayward Field in 2015

1. Emma Coburn, 9:10.76 (2016)
2. Jenny Simpson, 9:12.50 (2009)
3. Leah O’Connor, 9:18.85 (2016)
4. Anna Willard, 9:22.76 (2008)
5. Stephanie Garcia, 9:23.48 (2015)
6. Courtney Frerichs, 9:24.41 (2016)
7. Nicole Bush, 9:24.59 (2014)
8. Lisa Aguilera, 9:24.84 (2010)
9. Colleen Quigley, 9:24.92 (2015)
10. Ashley Higginson, 9:27.59 (2014)

Though Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet (8:59 sb) and Kenya’s defending world champ Hyvin Kiyeng (9:00 sb) have dominated the world this year and look to have a stranglehold on gold and silver, Coburn’s 9:10 puts her at #3 on the 2016 list, six seconds up on fourth. She’s a serious medal threat, and whoever else represents the U.S. in Rio will be expected to make the final. The fact is that the U.S. is one of the top three steeple nations in the world right now, behind Kenya and very close to (or perhaps better than) Ethiopia. That’s not something we thought we’d be saying five years ago, when Coburn was the only American to make the World Championship final and finished third to last. But it’s true. This team will be hard to make.

Coburn, who comes in off an American record of 9:10.76 at the Pre Classic, is the red-hot favorite to win her fifth U.S. title and earn her second Olympic berth. Barring an act of God, she’ll be on the team. The question is, who will be joining her on the plane to Rio?

O'Connor (left) battled Quigley at USAs last year O’Connor (left) battled Quigley at USAs last year

Based on 2016 results, Leah O’Connor is the top candidate. In the same race where Coburn set her American record, O’Connor became just the third American ever to break 9:20, joining Coburn and Jenny Simpson. The 2014 NCAA champ at Michigan State, O’Connor was an agonizing fourth to rival Colleen Quigley at USAs last year after falling on the final water barrier. But O’Connor has come back with a vengeance in 2016, setting PRs at 1500 (4:11) and 5,000 (15:38) and taking 4th at USA Indoors in the 3k in addition to her steeple prowess. The 23-year-old is in the shape of her life and if she runs as she did at Pre, she’ll be on the team.

But replicating such a fantastic performance is a tough ask, and if O’Connor is in the 9:20’s instead of the 9:10’s, she’s vulnerable in Eugene. Last year’s runner-up, Stephanie Garcia, has run 4:06 and 15:16 (pb) already this year, though she flopped in her steeple opener, running just 9:35 in Stockholm on June 16th. That won’t cut it at the Trials, but unlike O’Connor, she’s made U.S. teams in the past, finishing 9th in Beijing last year.

You know you're doing something right when you break a Jenny Simpson record You know you’re doing something right when you break a Jenny Simpson record

Like Coburn and O’Connor, Courtney Frerichs has been on fire in 2016. She broke Jenny Simpson‘s collegiate record at NCAAs three weeks ago, clocking 9:24.41 (#3 on the U.S. list this year), the culmination of a fine year at New Mexico, where she transferred as a fifth-year last fall. She was 4th at NCAA XC in November, ran 15:31 in December and was totally unchallenged in the steeple this spring. 9:24 is a ways behind Coburn and O’Connor on paper, but there’s no telling how fast Frerichs — who recently signed with the Nike Bowerman Track Club — can go with some real competition.

Two other women have a shot at the team. Ashley Higginson is #4 in the U.S. this year at 9:29 but was beaten badly by Coburn and O’Connor at Pre (she ran 9:33). Higginson was 4th four years ago and has improved by leaps and bounds since then (she entered the 2012 Trials with a PR of 9:46; her best is now 9:27); unfortunately for her, so has the rest of the U.S. in this event. The other woman who could break things up is Colleen Quigley, last year’s NCAA champ who finished 12th at Worlds. But Quigley has only raced once since Worlds, running 4:12 for 1500 to win at the Stumptown Twilight Meet on June 23rd. Quigley looked good in that outing (her PR is 4:11) but can she really make the Olympic team off of a single race when she’s up against the deepest domestic field in the event’s history? One good sign: Quigley’s Bowerman Track Club teammate Emily Infeld just made the 10k team in her first outdoor race of the season. But Infeld is also a better runner than Quigley and raced indoors this year.

LRC Prediction: Coburn and O’Connor’s massive races at Pre have to be respected, and we’re picking them to go 1-2 in that order. Garcia and Quigley both had fantastic 2015 seasons, and both should be factors here, but Frerichs is coming on at the right time and could be in 9:20 shape if she has someone like O’Connor to chase. We’ll take Frerichs as the third Olympian.

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