Women’s Steeple Preview: Americans Look To Mix It Up With Favorites Norah Jeruto and Winfred Yavi, Who Have Never Medalled Before

By Robert Johnson
July 14, 2022

The women’s steeplechase at the 2022 World Athletics Championships in Eugene gets underway on Saturday and it serves as one of the best chances for Team USA to get a distance medal on home soil as at least one US woman has medalled in each of the last four global outdoor championships. We preview the event for you below.

Heats: Saturday, July 16 – 1:35 p.m. ET; Final: Wednesday, July 20 – 10:45 p.m. ET

US Women Medals In Steeplechase
2016 – bronze for Emma Coburn
2017 – gold for Coburn, silver for Courtney Frerichs
2019 – silver for Coburn
2021 – silver for Frerichs

2021 Olympic Results

1. Peruth Chemutai Uganda 9:01.45 NR
2. Courtney Frerichs United States 9:04.79 SB
3. Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi Kenya 9:05.39
4. Mekides Abebe Ethiopia 9:06.16
5 Gesa Felicitas Krause Germany 9:14.00

2022 World Top 10

1 8:56.55 Winfred Yavi BRN
2 8:57.97 NR Norah Jeruto KAZ
3 9:03.26 Mekides Abebe ETH
4 9:05.54 Peruth Chemutai UGA
5 9:07.81 Werkwuha Getachew ETH
6 9:09.19 WU18B Simbo Alemayehu ETH
7 9:10.17 Celliphine Chespol KEN
8 9:10.63 Emma Coburn USA
9 9:12.04A Faith Cherotich KEN  17-year-old presumably is focused on World U20 champs
10 9:12.10 Courtney Wayment USA

The Favorite Is…..

The event can’t start soon enough for favorite Norah Jeruto. Jeruto has been waiting a long time for the opportunity to shine on the global stage as she has never competed at a global championship as a pro. A world youth champion for Kenya way back in 2011, the 26-year-old had to wait for years for her transfer of allegiance from Kenya to Kazakhstan to be approved. Though she hasn’t competed in an international competition since way back in 2016 at the African champs, let there be no doubt that she starts as the favorite.

Jeruto has run three steeples this year and won all three. Last year, she ran three steeples and won them all, including the Pre Classic and DL final in Zurich. At Pre, she put out a statement by running 8:53.65 — the 3rd-fastest time in history — to show the world she would have won Olympic gold if she’d been in the race.

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But we can’t just hand Jeruto the gold medal quite yet. The world leader this year is another Kenyan-born athlete — Bahrain’s Winfred Yavi, who ran 8:56.55 at in Paris to make herself the 4th-fastest woman in world history. Yes, Yavi lost to Jeruto at Pre (8:56 to 8:58) and Yavi is only 2-14 against Jeruto in her career, but Yavi is still young. While she’s been competing at Worlds since 2017 and has never medalled (4th in 2019, 10th in 2021), Yavi is still officially just 22 years of age. American Emma Coburn didn’t win her first medal until age 26.

What About The Americans?

The 5th-fastest woman in history is also in this race — American Courtney Frerichs. After running pbs of 14:48 and 31:23 in February and March, the early steeple season hasn’t been great for Frerichs. After running just 9:20.96 at Pre, she told us she’s been battling low iron and Celiac disease. She then ran 9:35 and fell in her next steeple in Portland, but Frerichs improved to 9:16.18 at USAs (3rd behind Coburn and Courtney Wayment). And that wasn’t a true indicator of her fitness as she was spiked early in the race at USAs and ran the rest of the way fearing her spike was going to fall off. With her workouts coming around, she most definitely shouldn’t be discounted as a medal threat.

Frerichs isn’t as consistent as Emma Coburn (Coburn has broken 9:10 13 times, Frerichs just 6), but when Courtney goes big, she often goes really big. In 2017, when Frerichs won WC silver, she had only run 9:19 at Pre (and 9:54 in Doha), which actually was a PB for her at the time, but in the WC final she ran 9:03 and took silver.

The most likely American medallist, however, is Emma Coburn. Coburn, who was shockingly awful in last year’s Olympic final where she was DQ’d, normally is very good at getting her peak right as she had medalled at each of the previous three global champs before Tokyo. As mentioned above, 13 times in her career, Coburn has run a under 9:10 (but never under 9:00 — her pb of 9:02.35 makes her the 10th-fastest woman ever) and I fully expect her to do it again in Eugene but am just not sure if that will be enough to medal.

NCAA champ Courtney Wayment is the third American in the field. She’s PR’d in her last two competitions in Eugene (9:16.00 at NCAAs, 9:12.10 at USAs for 2nd) and probably needs to take at least another 5 seconds off her pb to dream of a medal.

Other Medal Contenders

Besides Yavi and Jeruto, there are four other women in the field who have gone sub-9:10 this year. One of them is Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai who stunned the world by winning Olympic gold last year last year at age 22. Last year, Chemutai entered the Olympics after running just 9:22 in Doha and 9:33 in Hengelo but she ran 9:01.45 to win before finishing just 7th at Pre and the DL final. Since she ran 9:05 at Pre this year, she should not be discounted.

The other three sub-9:10 women are all from Ethiopia. Leading the way is Mekides Abebe. The 20-year old Ethiopian record holder at 9:02.52 was 4th in the Olympics last year and third at Pre this year (9:03.26). However, in her last race, Abebe was only the second-best Ethiopian as in Paris she lost to 17-year-old upstart Simbo Alemayehu. While Alemayehu has yet to win a race in 2022, she’s PR’d in every single race she’s run. She started the year with a 10:01 pb and has run 9:59, 9:49, 9:26, 9:18, and 9:09 in her five races. That last one gave her runner-up honors in Paris.

The 2nd-fastest Ethiopian on the year is Werkwuha Getachew, who could end up being a big story.

The 26-year-old had zero results until 2020 when she showed up on the scene. Last year, she ran faster than the Ethiopian record in the 800 in Hengelo (1:56.67) but didn’t run in the Olympics, with many assuming she is intersex. If that is the case, her options were to either take birth control pills to lower her male level of testosterone (since she’d have internal testes), move down to the 400, or move up to the steeple or 5k (intersex athletes are barred from the women’s 800 and 1500 unless they reduce their testosterone). Getachew has moved up to the steeple with big success. She won the Ethiopian champs in March, was 5th at Pre in 9:07.81 in May, and won the African champs in June.

I haven’t mentioned anyone from Kenya yet (well, at least representing Kenya) and that’s because I don’t expect them to medal. 8:58 performer Celliphine Chespol is the fastest Kenyan on the year but she hasn’t broken 9:10 this year and was only 6th at Pre. Defending world champ and world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, 31, only ran 8:50 in the flat 3000 in Doha. The 2nd-fastest Kenyan on the year — 17-year-old Faith Cherotich, who dominated the Kenyan Trials by 10 seconds — would be a name worth considering but she’s not entered as she’s focused on the World U20 champs where she got the bronze last year. Nor is Jackline Chepkoech, last year’s world U20 champ.

LRC Prediction: I am really tempted to put an American up on the medal stand as I’m very bullish on both Frerichs and Coburn despite their subpar showings at Pre. A first-ever sub-9 for Coburn wouldn’t stun me at all. That being said, I just can’t quite pull the trigger.

1) Jeruto 2) Yavi 3) Chemutai

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LetsRun.com is the home of running and the sport’s front page. Come back every day as we’ll be previewing all of the distance events and then covering them extensively from Eugene.

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*Complete Event-by-Event Previews *Complete 2022 World Outdoor Coverage

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