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Emma Coburn Buffaloes The Field In Women’s Steeplechase

Bridget Franek takes second and Shalaya Kipp finishes third as all three women eclipse "A" standard.

Bridget Franek takes second and Shalaya Kipp finishes third as all three women eclipse “A” standard. 

EUGENE, Ore. — Oregon’s Hayward Field is starting to feel like home to the University of Colorado’s Emma Coburn.

The heavily favored 21-year-old redshirt took over the lead in the women’s steeplechase final less than one lap into the race and never relinquished it, winning her first Olympic Trials title in 9 minutes, 32.78 seconds. The Oregon Track Club’s Bridget Franek, who finished second to Coburn at last year’s national championships also held here, was runner-up again, crossing the finish line in 9:35.62. She was followed closely by Coburn’s collegiate teammate, Shalaya Kipp, who was clocked in 9:35.73. All three women, who came in under the Olympic “A” standard of 9:43, qualified for their first Olympic team.

“I’ve had this goal since last year,” said Coburn, who also won the 2011 NCAA steeplechase title at Hayward Field. “This was a goal that I was really hungry to achieve and I just feel so blessed that I have a chance to run with these women in London and represent Team USA with all the other great athletes here.”

Coburn moved to the front just before completing the first full circuit around the track and kept everyone behind her the rest of the way. Delilah DiCrescenzo, third at last year’s national championships, ran in second for most of the race’s first half before fading and finishing seventh. Franek kept herself in third or fourth place for the early part of the race before moving into second with three laps to go, a position she held all the way to the tape.

“It was warm out there, warmer than I expected,” revealed Franek, who moved to Oregon after finishing up her collegiate career at Penn State in 2010. “I definitely gave more than I have in any race this season so far. It was really good to be able to do that on the one that mattered. I moved out here away from my family and friends back east for this reason and do do that for them, for my coach, for myself, for my God, is just amazing.”

Kipp, who this spring won the NCAA championship while Coburn redshirted to focus on her Olympic preparation, needed an Olympic “A” standard time of under 9:43.00 (her previous personal best was 9:43.09) in addition to a top-three finish in order to make the team. While not totally confident that it would happen on this night, she trusted in her training and the encouragement of her coach, Mark Wetmore, who told her last winter that an Olympic berth this summer wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

“Training has gone well,” Kipp said. “I’m so fortunate to be able to train with Emma and I have fantastic coaches that helped me get here. I’m really excited.”

Favorites Advance In 1,500m Semifinals

Earlier in the evening, two heats of both the men’s and women’s 1,500-meter semifinals took place to set the field for Sunday afternoon’s finals. Runners placing in the top five of each heat automatically qualified for the final, along with the next two fastest times outside of the top-five finishers in each heat.

In heat 1 of the women’s races,  2011 world leader Morgan Uceny was grouped with her Mammoth Track Club teammate, Anna Pierce, as well as 2011 world champion Jenny Simpson. Uceny took the early pace, leading the field through 400 meters in 66.8 seconds before things slowed down a bit. Coming into the last lap there were seven women still in contention, led by Uceny and Simpson, who would finish first and second in 4:08.9 and 4:09.12, respectively.

“I was just stuck on Morgan. She’s a smooth runner,” Simpson said afterward. “I’m absolutely ready for anything [in the final].”

Heat 2 went out a little faster than the first but finished a touch slower as 2008 Olympian Shannon Rowbury took the win in 4:09.96. Gabriele Anderson was second in 4:10.08, while Katherine Mackey took third in 4:10.54. Alice Schmidt, who made the Olympic team in the 800 meters earlier in the meet, finished sixth and was the only runner with an “A” standard time of under 4:06 this season not to advance to the final.

“The second race is always nerve-wracking,” Rowbury said. “You have to make sure you get to tthat final. I felt like I had another gear if I wanted it.”

The men’s heats featured no big surprises, as all the favorites to make the final did. In heat 1, Will Leer (3:51.27) came out on top in a race that went out slower than both of the women’s heats and finished in a full-on 400-meter sprint to the finish. Andrew Wheating (3:51.40), David Torrence (3:51.43), Craig Miller (3:51.56) and John Mickowski (3:51.71) took spots 2 through 5 as no one advanced out of heat 1 on time.

“I was ready to go, when the move was made I was ready to go,” Leer said. “It’s really really hard to run on your own.”

World 1,500m bronze medalist Matt Centrowitz won a much faster heat 2 in 3:41.90. Leo Manzano, a 2008 Olympian in this event, finished second in the same time. Robby Andrews (3:42.14), Jeff See (3:42.16) and Miles Batty (3:42.33) took spots 2 through 5 to automatically advance to the final, while sixth and seventh place finishers Andrew Bayer (3:42.56) and Jordan McNamara (3:42.77) advanced on time.

“It was good,” Centrowitz said in a brief post-race interview. “The competition was good. I just came to qualify and give myself a good position.”