Coburn Will Need Another US Record To Medal, & She's Never Been More Ready

James Lang / USA Today Emma Coburn Rio
The 2017 IAAF World Championships are right around the corner! Check out the breakdown of the women's 3k steeplechase below.

Women's 3k Steeplechase

August 9, 1:05 PM CT (heats)
August 11, 3:25 PM CT (final)

Top International Contenders: Celphine Chespol (Kenya), Hyvin Jepkemoi (Kenya), Beatrice Chepkoech (Kenya), Ruth Jebet (Bahrain)

Team USA: Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, Colleen Quigley

2016 Olympic Steeplechase Final:


1 Ruth Jebet BRN 8:59.75 NR YES
2 Hyvin Jepkemoi KEN 9:07.12 YES
3 Emma Coburn USA 9:07.63 NR YES
4 Beatrice Chepkoech KEN 9:16.05 YES
5 Sofia Assefa ETH 9:17.15 YES
6 Gesa Felicitas Krause GER 9:18.41 YES
7 Madeline Hills AUS 9:20.38 NO
8 Colleen Quigley USA 9:21.10 YES
9 Genevieve LaCaze AUS 9:21.21 YES
10 Lalita Babar IND 9:22.74 NO
11 Courtney Frerichs USA 9:22.87 YES
12 Habiba Ghribi TUN 9:28.75 TBA
13 Lydia Rotich KEN 9:29.90 NO
14 Aisha Praught JAM 9:34.20 YES
15 Etenesh Diro ETH 9:38.77 YES
16 Geneviève Lalonde CAN 9:41.88 YES
17 Sara Louise Treacy IRL 9:52.70 NO
18 Fabienne Schlumpf SUI 9:59.30 YES
*TBA - athlete's federation has not yet announced official roster for London

Emma Coburn is the queen of 'finding a way' in the steeplechase. In the event that seems to get stronger and stronger every year since its introduction to Worlds in 2005, Coburn finds a way to improve not only personally, but also compared to her international competition. Coburn has been to four global steeplechase championships now, and her finishes (in order) speak for themselves:

  • ​​2011 WC: 9th, 9:51.40
  • 2012 OG: 8th, 9:23.54
  • 2015 WC: 5th, 9:21.78
  • 2016 OG: 3rd, 9:07.63
Coburn's huge jump in fitness last year was impressive, setting the American record in the heat of Rio to score bronze, but it was also required to remain competitive with the Kenyans (and world record holder Ruth Jebet, who competes for Bahrain but was born in Kenya) -- of the 25 all-time top marks in the women's steeple, a ridiculous 21 of them were set in either 2016 or 2017.

Needless to say, in 2017 it will be much tougher to 'find a way' to medal, with three Kenyans plus Jebet at 9:01 or better this year, six full seconds faster than Coburn's American record. Chief among them is Cellphine Chespol, who is still just 18 years old yet ran the second-best time of any competitor in history (8:58.78) in Eugene this year, despite coming to a complete stop for several seconds to tie her shoe after a water barrier.

Chespol isn't the only runner who's been crushing it this year, as her countrywoman Hyvin Jepkemoi again came agonizingly close to the nine-minute barrier with a win in Doha, clocking a 9:00.12. Jebet hasn't done anything otherworldly this year like her 8:52 World Record performance from 2016, but she still is clearly fit, coming off a 9:01 SB, along with Beatrice Chepkoech who battled with Chespol to the very end in Eugene. 

What Coburn's got going for her in 2017 is that she's coming off her best year yet in terms of fitness, starting with setting a world indoor record in the DMR in January all the way to having run just off the American record at Prefontaine Classic. This year she also switched to being coached by Joe Bosshard after leaving former longtime coach Mark Wetmore, and the change seems to have gone relatively smoothly.

But as impressive as her 9:07 at Pre was, it was still only good for fourth place. It's entirely possible that Coburn could chop over five seconds off the American record and still be out of the medals in London. The odds on paper are stacked strongly against Coburn repeating her medal performance at Rio, but that hasn't stopped the queen of 'finding a way' in the past.

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