At first, it looked like Courtney Frerichs may have miscounted the laps remaining in the women's steeplechase final. Rather, it was a conscious and bold push from the front of the race against one of the strongest fields in history as she held on for an Olympic silver medal.
Uganda's Peruth Chemutai reeled in Frerichs in the final lap to finish with a national record of 9:01.45. Frerichs was three seconds back in 9:04.79.
"I was prepared to have to take it early and make it a hard race," Frerichs said after the race. "It's really difficult to put yourself out there like that and I definitely had some fear to overcome but I knew I'd walk away with no regrets if I really laid it all out there."
Kenya's Hiyeng Kiyeng, who entered the Olympics with the fastest time of 2021, finished third in 9:05.39 for bronze.
Chemutai won Uganda's first Olympic medal in the event, which was added to the Games for women in 2008. The 22-year-old has represented Uganda at the 2016 Olympics but did not make it out of the first round. She showed promise with a fifth-place finish at the 2019 world championships but her personal best was only 9:07.94 coming into Tokyo, meaning few may have thought of her as a contender for gold.
Frerichs is now the highest-placing American in the steeplechase at the Olympics. In 2016, Emma Coburn won bronze to become the first woman to win an Olympic medal at the Games. Frerichs was in her first Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and finished 11th in 9:22.87. A year later, Frerichs improved and took silver behind Coburn in one of the most surprising world championship finals in history.
Frerichs also owns the American record of 9:00.85 from the 2018 Monaco Diamond League meet. Before her race in Tokyo, she told reporters that she was in better shape and capable of running under nine minutes if the race called for it. With that confidence, she made the move that broke the race open and led to the first Olympic medal of her career.
"This is an absolute dream come true," Frerichs said. "I grew up doing gymnastics as a kid and always watching the Olympic Games hoping one day that I would be there. Now to have a medal, it's just more than I can ask for."
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