Emma Coburn Eyeing First Olympic Bid

She was the 2011 NCAA and U.S. Champion in the steeple.

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She was the 2011 NCAA and U.S. Champion in the steeple.

(c) 2012 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

With her 9:25.28 personal best performance at last Saturday’s Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., University of Colorado redshirt senior Emma Coburn joined an elite club. Her mark made her America’s fourth-fastest steeplechaser ever –just the fifth to break 9:30– and cemented her status as the favorite to win the USA Olympic Trials on the same Hayward Field track later this month.

“My PR prior to this was only 9:37,” a delighted Coburn told reporters after her race. She continued: “To run 9:25, I was really pleased with that. I felt really relaxed the whole time, too, so I’m confident that I can repeat that performance again in a couple of weeks.”

Coburn, 21, the 2011 NCAA and USA open champion, is skipping her 2012 collegiate track season, both indoors and out, to focus on preparing for the Trials and the Olympic Games under coach Mark Wetmore. She is taking a similar path to Colorado alum Jenny Simpson who won the Olympic Trials in 2008 while she was still competing for her college team. Simpson, however, won the NCAA title the same year before going on to win the Trials, and finishing ninth in the Beijing Olympic final in a then American record 9:22.26.

When asked by a reporter last Saturday, Simpson agreed that her Prefontaine performance had moved her into a different category as an athlete: someone who could hope to make an impact on the world stage in the next few years.

“I think so,” Coburn replied. “This spring has gone well so far. I’m redshirting the collegiate season to try and get ready for the Trials.It’s the first time in college I’ve been able to put a good base of training in, because in the summer we’re racing and I don’t have a good base for cross country. Then cross country racing, indoor racing and outdoor racing.  So, I’ve been really happy with how my training has gone thus far.”

Coburn, from Crested Butte, Colo., had an exhausting year in 2011. At this point last year she had already raced ten times before winning both the NCAA and USA open titles last June. To stay sharp, she also raced twice in Europe before competing in the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, where she finished 13th in the final. With just a short time to recover, she competed for Colorado during the cross country season where she finished 20th in the NCAA Championships last November.

This season, Coburn is running on fresh legs with just two races in the books so far. She opened her season at the USATF High Performance Meet at Occidental College last month, running a personal best 4:09.42.

“At Oxy I ran 4:09, and I felt that got me at a new level with my 1500 time, so I’m pleased that my steeple time equates to my 1500 time,” Coburn said. “Now I feel like I have two respectable times, maybe not on a world scale but on a U.S. scale. I’m jumping two levels, so I’m happy with that. There’s still room for improvement to be able to run 9:15 with the top women in the world, or 9:05 with the top women in the world. That’s still a few years in the making, but this is a good step and me and my coaches are really pleased.”

America’s other best steeplechase pros –Bridget Franek, Delilah Dicrescenzo, Sara Hall, and Stephanie Garcia– are not running at Coburn’s level. Franek, last year’s runner-up at the national championships and a good bet to make the Olympic team, has only broken 9:35 once, and Dicrescenzo has never broken 9:40. Hall, last year’s Pan Am Games gold medalist who competed in the same Prefontaine race as Coburn, finished 28 seconds behind her.  Garcia’s best time this season is 9:49.64.

But Coburn feels that her University of Colorado teammate, Shalaya Kipp, who has run 9:43.09 this season, should not be overlooked for an Olympic team berth.

“My teammate Shalaya Kipp has a chance to make the team,” Coburn said. “She did a full indoor and outdoor season, but they’re (Colorado’s coaches) just being careful with her. I did a full season last year then made Daegu.”

Coburn is fully engaged with her Colorado team, despite not competing with them this year. She said she’s enjoying seeing the American collegiate season from a different perspective, even though she misses being on the field of play.

“It’s easier mentally not to have to deal with all of that,” Coburn said. “I’m enjoying it, watching my teammates race at Conference or at NCAA’s makes me a little jealous, but so far it’s working out well and I’m happy with the decision I made.”

9:12.50 – Jenny Simpson, World Championships Berlin, 2009
9:22.76 – Anna Pierce, Heusden, 2008
9:24.84 – Lisa Aguilera, Brussels, 2010
9:25.28 – Emma Coburn, Eugene, 2012
9:29.32 – Briana Shook, Heusden, 2004
9:30.75 – Lindsey Anderson, Eugene, 2008
9:32.35 – Bridget Franek, Eugene, 2010
9:39.35 – Ann Gaffigan, Sacramento, 2004
9:39.38 – Nicole Bush, Palo Alto, 2009
9:39.48 – Sara Hall, Roma, 2011