Emma Coburn leads shocking U.S. steeplechase one-two (video)

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The U.S. distance running boom in one image:

Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs clearing the final barrier and dashing to the 3000m steeplechase finish line at the world championships. Behind them, four gassed Kenyan-born runners unable to keep pace.

Coburn and Frerichs went one-two in one of the biggest shocks at a surprise-filled worlds in London. It’s the first time Americans earned gold and silver in an individual Olympics or worlds race longer than 400 meters since the 1912 Stockholm Games.

“Am I dreaming? Am I dreaming?” Frerichs repeated to Coburn.

Coburn, a bronze medalist in Rio as part of a dazzling U.S. team distance effort, emerged Friday from the greatest field in the event’s history to become the first American woman to take steeple gold at the Olympics or worlds.

“I thought, on a perfect day, I can sneak on the podium and get third,” said Coburn, who switched coaches to her fiancé after grabbing one of seven U.S. distance medals in Rio (most since 1912). “As we all know, I came in ranked sixth on time  [in the world this year], ranked fifth of people in the final.”

Coburn clocked 9:02.58, taking five seconds off her American record. Frerichs, 11th in Rio, also went under the existing American record in 9:03.77. Frerichs chopped 15 seconds off her previous best time.

“I didn’t even expect a medal to be a possibility,” she said.

Coburn and Frerichs embraced and dropped to the track together as the Kenyan-born women trickled in. A truly shocking image.

“I don’t think it’s family friendly what I said to Courtney,” Coburn said. “Holy guacamole is the PG version.”

As recently as four years ago, the U.S. put nobody into the 15-woman worlds final, while Kenyans and Ethiopians grabbed the first six places. In 2014, the East Africans let Coburn run away with a Diamond League victory in Shanghai, reportedly thinking she was a pacemaker.

By Rio, the U.S. had medal contenders in both steeplechases and at every distance. Americans came home with medals in the 800m (first since 1992), 1500m (first gold since 1908), 3000m steeplechase (first since 1984), 5000m (first since 1964) and marathon.

Steeplechase is the most recent surge.

Evan Jager took silver in Rio, in addition to Coburn’s bronze. Before Jager, the U.S. went 15 years without a top-10 in the men’s steeple at worlds and the Olympics.

The women’s steeple only recently joined the Olympic and worlds program (2008 and 2005). Before Coburn, the U.S. had a best finish of fifth in an Olympic or world women’s steeple.

“We’ve been through the ringer, and it just takes a few years before you really get out there feeling like it’s your race,” Coburn said. “I can’t totally explain why Team USA is crushing, but I think consistency has a lot to do with it.”

Kenyan Hyvin Jepkemoi took bronze Friday after getting silver in Rio, continuing that nation’s steeple medal streak, but her countrywomen struggled. The last time a Kenyan man or woman failed to make an Olympic or world steeple podium was 1987.

“I did all I could to win that race,” Jepkemoi said, according to the IAAF, “but they were stronger.”

Olympic champion and world-record holder Ruth Jebet of Bahrain (formerly Kenya) faded badly on the final lap. She gave up the lead at the bell and ended up 11 seconds behind Coburn in fifth.

Kenyan 18-year-old Celliphine Chespol, who in May ran the second-fastest time ever despite stopping to fix her shoe, faded behind the top five on the penultimate lap. She ended up sixth.

Another Kenyan, Rio fourth-place finisher Beatrice Chepkoech, momentarily forgot the first water jump and had to retrace her steps. She recovered for fourth place but could not match the final sprints of Coburn and Frerichs.

In other events, Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers repeated as world 200m champion in 22.05 seconds. She edged Marie-Josee Ta Lou by .03. The Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller-Uibo took bronze. The field lacked Olympic and world 100m champions Elaine Thompson and Tori Bowie, who skipped the event.

Brittney Reese won her fourth long jump world title with a 7.02-meter leap. Reese, who bagged every global title from 2009 through 2013, tore a hip labrum in late 2013. She failed to make the 2015 Worlds final. She considered retiring, “plenty of times.” But Reese came back to win the 2016 World Indoor title and a silver medal in Rio.

On Friday, Reese prevailed by two centimeters over Darya Klishina, the only Russian track and field athlete allowed into Rio, who competed in London as an authorized neutral athlete as her nation is still banned due to its poor anti-doping record.

On the back of her bib, Reese had written “RIP Paw Paw” in remembrance of her grandfather who died last month.

“My grandfather is the reason why I’m in track,” she told Lewis Johnson on Olympic Channel. “I put his name on my bib to have him close to my heart.”

Rio gold medalist Tianna Bartoletta snuck in for bronze by one centimeter with her last jump. Serbian Ivana Španović appeared to leap greater than seven meters on her final attempt, which could have gotten her gold, but was given a 6.91-meter mark. It appeared the bib on her back came unhitched and grazed the sand ahead of the rest of her body.

World-record holder Keni Harrison nearly missed the 100m hurdles final, hitting the first hurdle with her lead leg in her semi. She was the last qualifier into Saturday’s eight-woman final by one hundredth of a second.

Harrison, from a family of 11 children, is undefeated since shockingly missing the Rio team by placing sixth at the Olympic Trials.

Rio gold medalist Brianna Rollins is not at worlds, suspended after missing three drug tests in the last year.

All of the favorites advanced to Sunday’s women’s 800m final. That field is led by Caster Semenya, who earned 1500m bronze on Monday and hasn’t lost an 800m in nearly two years.

Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, eyeing his fourth straight world title, led the men to advance into Sunday’s 1500m final. Rio gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz was last in his first-round heat Thursday.

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At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

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While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

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Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

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A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

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