Emma Coburn Wins Ninth U.S. Steeplechase Title to Make Her Third Olympic Team

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After a decade dominating the U.S. steeplechase field, Emma Coburn added another accolade to the mix, finishing first at the USATF Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon, on Thursday night.

With Coburn’s win—her ninth national title—she clinched her spot on her third Olympic team. Her time of 9 minutes, 9.41 seconds in the 3,000-meter event set a new meet record.

Courtney Frerichs finished second in a season-best time of 9:11.79, and Val Constien ran a personal best of 9:18.34 to finish third. Both women will join Coburn in Tokyo. It’ll be the second Games for Frerichs and the first for Constien.

It’s been an emotionally trying couple of years for Coburn, whose mom—who was at Eugene to see her daughter’s victory—has been undergoing treatment for stage IV colon cancer.

“To share this with her and have her be well, it’s more special than winning today and going to Tokyo,” she told NBC on the broadcast after the race.

Steeplechase—an event that sees competitors racing down a track, jumping over low barriers, and splashing through shallow pools as they run—is an event that in recent years has been dominated in the U.S. by Coburn, Frerichs, and Olympian Colleen Quigley. In an unfortunate turn, Quigley scratched from the competition several days ago due to injury. With Quigley’s absence, the final spot on the U.S. Olympic team loomed large. It seemed that Leah Falland was going to clinch the last spot, but with 800 meters to go, she fell to the track after catching a toe on one of the barriers. That gave Constien the opportunity to kick for a third-place finish.

Constien is a self-funded runner who works a full-time customer service job and paid her own way to the Trials, Women’s Running reported. “I think that being a blue-collar runner is really cool. Anybody with a full-time job can still have Olympic aspirations,” she told the outlet after the race.

In Tokyo, Coburn, Frerichs, and Constien will face a formidable opponent in Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech, the current world record holder in the event. At the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Chepkoech won the event, finishing nearly five seconds ahead of Coburn, who finished second in a personal-best time.

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