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Posted: June 25, 2021:  

(RRW) Athletics: Coburn Wins Record Ninth USA Steeplechase Title

From David Monti, @d9monti
By Rich Sands, @sands
© 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved.

EUGENE, Oregon (24-Jun) - Emma Coburn collected her ninth national title in the 3000-meter steeplechase here tonight, winning the U.S. Olympic Team Trials Track & Field on a warm evening at Hayward Field. And for the fourth consecutive time, American record holder Courtney Frerichs was the runner-up. Val Constien was an unexpected third-place finisher, completing the team for the Tokyo Games.

PHOTO: Emma Coburn on her way to winning her ninth national steeplechase title at the 2021 USA Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field in Eugene, Oregon (photo by Kevin Morris)

After a conservative early pace (3:09 for the first kilometer), Frerichs went to the front with four laps to go significantly picking up the pace. Coburn went right with her, as did Leah Falland, and a lap later that trio began to open up a gap on the chase pack, which included Constien.

Just past two laps to go, Falland nicked a barrier and fell hard to the track. She got up quickly, but was soon running with Constien, Courtney Wayment and Marisa Howard in a pitched battle for the final spot on the team.

Meanwhile up front, Coburn had moved ahead of Frerichs down the penultimate backstretch. She continued to extend her lead, finishing in a Trials record 9:09.41. (Coburn set the previous trials record of 9:17.48 in 2016.)

Coburn knew what once Frerichs made her move the real racing was about to begin. "She was rolling and I was trying to stick behind her," said the 2017 world champion. "With 700 meters to go I made a big push and didn't look back. I knew I had to really grind if I was going to get some real estate between us."

Frerichs (9:11.79) was second, well clear of the fast-closing Constien (9:18.34). "I had a little rough second-to-last water jump and lost a little momentum and that's something I'm going to keep working on," said Frerichs, who set the national record of 9:00.85 in 2018. "We ran pretty fast considering that start, so I'm really happy with that."

Despite their rivalry, Coburn says they are friends and genuinely feed off each other. "It's a comfort when I can go to an international race and Courtney can be there," she said. "I think we can make a splash in Tokyo and come home with some hardware."

Behind them came a dramatic conclusion to the race. Falland edged into third place with 500 meters remaining, but ultimately ran out of steam, fading badly down the homestretch and placing ninth in 9:27.06. "I found myself in the chase pack for third and so I tried to stay calm and connected so that I could potentially still out-kick for third place," she said tearfully. The 2015 NCAA indoor champion in the mile for Michigan State (as Leah O'Connor), she has battled injuries in recent years, but re-established herself as one of the U.S.'s best steeplechasers this spring while being coached by three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein. "I worked really, really hard to get back to a place where I could contend for that team and I wasn't afraid at all."

Earlier in the evening, two teenage middle-distance stars, Hobbs Kessler and Athing Mu, made their professional debuts in preliminary rounds.

First up was Kessler, who won the first heat of the men's 1500 in 3:45.63, just ahead of 2020 U.S. indoor champion Josh Thompson (3:45.67). Kessler, 18, who just graduated from Ann Arbor Skyline High School and set national high school records this year in the indoor mile (3:57.66) and outdoor 1500 (3:34.36), announced his deal with adidas on Wednesday.

"I don't have very much experience with these races, so the first little bit I didn't know how it was going to play out, so I was just kind of staying in position," said Kessler, who closed in under 54 seconds for the final lap. "But 100 to go I knew I had it."

NCAA champ Cole Hocker of Oregon went wire to wire in the second section, winning in 3:39.72 ahead of Waleed Suleiman (3:39.92), Craig Engels (3:40.03) and reigning Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz (3:40.09). Sam Prakel won the third section in 3:39.02 as 24 of the 29 men advanced to Friday's semifinals.

In the women's 800 heats, Mu won her section with ease. The Trenton, N.J., native -who revealed a long-term deal with Nike the night before- just finished a spectacular freshman year at Texas A&M, winning the NCAA outdoor title in the 400, and lowering her own collegiate record (49.57) in the process. This was her first 800 since breaking the U.S. Under-20 record (1:57.73) in April.

Mu moved to the front with 150 meters to go in the second heat of the women's 800, crossing the line comfortably in 2:00.69, just ahead of Hanna Green (2:00.79). "Getting back to 800 after a couple of months definitely you feel it in your body," she said after qualifying for Friday's semifinals. "I've been rolling and rolling since NC's. Right now just getting on the track and actually running [and] forgetting about everything else feels really good." She also confirmed that she will stay in College Station, Texas, to continue being coached Texas A&M assistant Milton Mallard.

Chanelle Price had the day's fastest time, winning the first heat in 1:59.86 over Sage Hurta (2:00.08). American-record holder Ajee' Wilson, who is going for her fourth straight (and fifth overall) USATF title in the event, won the third heat in 2:00.55.

Sabrina Southerland (2:00.85) won the fourth heat, while former Oregon great Raevyn Rogers, whose likeness adorns the striking new tower that anchors the remodeled Hayward Field, won the fifth head in 2:00.75. She was just ahead of 2016 Olympic finalist Kate Grace (2:00.81).

Two high schoolers, Juliette Whittaker, 17, and Roisin Willis, 16, also advanced to the semi-finals. A third high schooler, Sophia Gorriaran, who just turned 16, did not advance but her time of 2:02.26 broke Mary Slaney's 45 year-old USA high school record for sophomores (2:02.29).

In the men's 5000 heats, Eric Jenkins waited until the final 200 meters to take the lead in the first section, winning in 13:43.18 (Jenkins had dropped out of the 10,000m last Friday). Grant Fisher and Woody Kincaid --who finished second and first, respectively, in the 10,000m-- came across the line together in 13:43.41, Fisher getting the nod by one-thousandth of a second. NCAA champ Cooper Teare (13:43.78) of Oregon also advanced.

Paul Chelimo, silver medalist in Rio, won the second heat easily in 13:36.66; five of the six time qualifiers came out of that section.

The 5000 final will be held on Sunday morning to avoid the worst heat of the day.

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