Women’s steeple barrier set at men’s height at Oslo Bislett Games, chaos ensues

by LetsRun.com
June 7, 2018

Tonight at the Oslo Bislett Games, the officials made a major error as they put one of the steeplechase barriers in the women’s steeple — the one by the 1500 start — at the men’s height of 36 inches, not the women’s height of 30 inches.

Carnage ensued. With the runners still closesly bunched on the first lap, the first half of the pack got over the barrier without falling down but the back of the pack had problems as people were, not surprisingly, hurdling differently to get over and some were stuttering. Rather than risk injury, Jamaica’s Aisha Praught, the 2018 Commonwealth Games champ, ended up just running into the barrier and coming to a complete stop before using her hands to help herself get over. World champs silver medallist Courtney Frerichs was another woman who was forced to slow significantly.

America’s world champ Emma Coburn got over the barrier without problems but she immediately started gesturing to the stands to try to let people know about the gaffe (based on post-race comments by Coburn we believe she was gesturing to her husband/coach Joe Bosshard).

Unfortunately, the officials weren’t able to get the barrier moved down for the second lap. On the third lap, they had half off the barrier at the 30″ height (the outside half) and half at the 36″ height when the runners were approaching. They smartly just shoved the barrier over so that the high part was on the inside of the track, as shown here:

Half the barrier is at the right height Half the barrier is at the right height

For the rest of the race, the barrier was at the correct height.

In terms of the race for the win, the gaffe seemed to have little impact as the race turned into a battle between Coburn and Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng, the 2016 Olympic silver medallist and 2017 world championship bronze medallist.

After the rabbit took the field through 1k in 3:01.80, the pace slowed and Coburn took the lead when the rabbit dropped out around the 1800-meter mark as she hit 2k in 6:09.42. Coburn led until the bell when Kiyeng took the lead right before she hit the finish line. Kiyeng would never relinquish it, although she did come fairly close to handing the race to Coburn in the closing meters. Kiyeng had a couple meter lead off coming off the final barrier but let up just before the line and a fast-charging Coburn ended up just .07 behind as Kiyeng won in 9:09.63 to Coburn’s 9:09.70. Kenyan Daisy Jepkemei, who was third in Doha (7th in Rome), was third in 9:16.87 as Frerichs moved up impressively after her early trouble with the improperly-set barrier to take fourth in 9:20.84 in her 2018 steeple debut.

Quick Take: A bad mistake by the officials, but Coburn shows why she’s a steeple master

The fact that Emma Coburn recognized immediately that the barrier was too high shows why she’s so good at the steeple. Her hurdling is spectacular. Some of the other comeptitors in the field, who consistently lose ground to Coburn on every single jump as they go way too high over it, may not have even realized the barrier was too high but Coburn recognized it immediately. Thankfully no one was injured seriously.

Coburn revealed after the race that the steeple barrier height was corrected only after her husband and coach Joe Bosshard went out on the track.

Praught runs into the barrier Praught runs into the barrier

Here is Coburn’s post-race comment on the gaffe:

I’m incredibly frustrated that we had to hurdle the men’s barrier on the back straight three times – we were waving around and it wasn’t solved until my husband went out onto the track to tell the officials. It panicked me but I tried to stay calm and feel as easy as possible from then on. 

After the stress, the pace slowed down a lot but today was a step in the right direction for me – I fell in Rome which was my fault but today wasn’t my fault, but I will keep working hard and try to forget it now. 

I hope to come back here again and next, it will take a perfect night and all of the stars to align for me to run sub-9-minutes but I’m hopeful, maybe in Monaco.

Quick Take: A decent opener for Frerichs

Today’s race was Frerich’s steeple opener (she had raced only twice all year – a 4th place showing at USA XC in February and a 4:14.62 1500 pb on April 20) and it was the best opener of her life. Last year, when she ended up winning silver at Worlds she opened in just 9:54 in Doha. Yes, she was sick for that race but her second race at Prefontaine was 9:19.09. Today was slightly slower than that but she definitely lost some time on the first lap when the back of the field struggled with the 36″ barrier. Her previous fastest steeple opener came in 2016 when she ran 9:29.31 on May 1.

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Screenshot 2018-06-07 at 12.20.32

Coburn waving trying to get officials attention Coburn waving trying to get officials attention
Women piling up into steeple barrier. Women piling up into steeple barrier.
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