Coburn, Frerichs Pull Away as Final Women's Steeplechase Spot Goes in Dramatic Fashion

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EUGENE – When Emma Coburn pulled away, there was little doubt she would win and claim her ninth U.S. steeplechase title. Crossing the finish line in 9:09.41, she set a U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials record and will head to her third Olympic Games.

In 2016, Coburn cracked the podium for the first time at a global championships by winning bronze in Rio de Janeiro, becoming the first American woman to medal at the Olympics in the steeplechase. (Bahrain’s Ruth Jebet won gold but was banned in 2018 for using EPO. She did not get stripped of her gold medal.) A year later, Coburn shocked the East Africans and led a 1-2 finish for the Americans by breaking her own American record at 9:02.58. Courtney Frerichs took silver just 1.19 seconds behind her.

Frerichs took possession of the American record in July 2018 with a 9:00.85 at the Monaco Diamond League. That race is the only head-to-head victory Frerichs has ever recorded over Coburn.

Frerichs attempted to make a move for the win on Thursday and took the lead by the fifth lap, but Coburn took it back with two laps remaining. Around the same point, Leah Falland, a former NCAA champion out of Michigan State, attempted to attach herself to the breakaway pack but fell over the hurdle. She rolled on the ground for a second before a battle for the final Olympic team spot ensued with Val Constien.

Constien entered Thursday night’s final with a personal best of 9:25, which was the third-best of the field heading into the Trials. Her coach Heather Burroughs told her that a five-second improvement may be enough to land on the team.

Coburn and Frerichs finished well clear of the rest of the pack and each secured their spots to Tokyo. Constien had a better clearance over the final water barrier and ended Falland’s Olympic dreams. A 9:18.34 personal best for Constien provided a little extra for her coach and a berth to her first Olympics.

Other notable news from Day 5

 Reigning world champion DeAnna Price threw a U.S. Olympic Trials record 77.10m (252-11) in her first throw of the day during the women’s hammer throw qualifying round.

 Gabby Thomas, a Harvard graduate pursuing a master's in epidemiology while running professionally, ran a world-leading time of 21.98 for the fastest women’s 200m time of the first round. 2016 Olympian Jenna Prandini may also be one to watch in the next few rounds. She ran a personal best of 22.14 while easing up before the finish line. Allyson Felix, who made her fifth Olympic team with a runner-up finish in the 400m, advanced to the semifinals.

• In the first round of the women’s 800 meters, a field of 42 women was cut down to 16 for the semifinals. Chanelle Price, the 2014 world indoor 800m champion, posted the fastest time of the day with a 1:59.86 in the first section. Raevyn Rogers and Ajeé Wilson, who won silver and bronze medals in the 800m at the 2019 world championships, also advanced.

• Last week, Texas A&M star freshman Athing Mu decided to sign with agent Wes Felix and ink a deal with Nike. The finalized contract was announced on Wednesday evening. In her lone year with the Aggies, she set the world junior indoor 800m record (1:58.40) and the NCAA outdoor records in the 400m (49.57) and 800m (1:57.73). Even after the women’s 400m final, her time holds up as the fastest on the year by an American woman but she will only contest the 800m at the trials. Mu won her heat in 2:00.69.

Mu told reporters that she will continue training in College Station, Texas and will still take classes at Texas A&M.

• The first round of the men’s 1,500 meters did not have any major surprises as 29 men competed and just five were eliminated.

 Ann Arbor Skyline (MI) senior Hobbs Kessler decided to sign a professional contract and forego his NCAA eligibility to run for Adidas. Kessler was initially committed to run at Northern Arizona and still plans on attending the university as a student. He will still be coached by Ron Warhurst, who has helped oversee his training during a record-breaking 2021 campaign. Kessler broke the U.S. high school indoor mile record in February by running 3:57.66. He went on to break the U.S. high school 1,500m record during the outdoor season by running 3:34.36 in late May. His high school record is faster than the NCAA record of 3:34.68 set by Notre Dame’s Yared Nuguse on May 14. Kessler has the Olympic standard, so if he advances to the final on Sunday, he would need a top three finish to make the Olympic team at 18 years old.

 In the men’s 400m hurdles, LSU’s Sean “Squirrel” Burrell fell over the ninth hurdle but got back up and finished the race. Burrell ran 47.85 to win the NCAA title on June 11. Only world championship silver medalist Rai Benjamin has run faster on the year by an American. Because of the slip, Burrell’s quest for his first Olympic team is over.

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