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

Leave a comment

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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: World Championships TV schedule

2019 USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships TV schedule

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold combine to air live daily coverage of the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, starting Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

The top three per individual event are in line to qualify for the world championships in Doha in late September and early October, should they have the world standard time or mark.

Sprint trio Christian Coleman (100m and 200m), Noah Lyles (200m) and Michael Norman (400m) headline the event. Each is 23 or younger and fastest in the world this year in his primary event.

Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin represent the veterans. Felix, a 33-year-old with 17 combined Olympic and world titles, is entered in her first meet since having daughter Camryn via emergency C-section at 32 weeks on Nov. 28.

Gatlin, 37, has a bye into worlds as the defending 100m champion. He could be Coleman’s biggest threat in the 100m after breaking 9.9 seconds for the first time since the Rio Olympics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Olympic champions, world-record holder to miss USATF Outdoors

Day Time (ET) Network Key Events
Thursday 3:45-11 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m first round, 10,000m finals
Friday 1:30-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold 100m finals, 400m semifinals
7-9 p.m. NBCSN
Saturday 2-6 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 400m, women’s 1500m, 100m hurdles
4-6 p.m. NBC
Sunday 4-9 p.m. NBC Sports Gold Finals: 200m, men’s 1500m, 110m hurdles
7-8 p.m. NBCSN
8-9 p.m. NBC

Beachvolley Vikings, sport’s top team, inspired by Kerri Walsh Jennings

FIVB
Leave a comment

HAMBURG, Germany — Kerri Walsh Jennings smiled at the decade-old picture of her posing with a young Anders Mol.

Since Walsh Jennings met Mol, the now-22-year-old and his 23-year-old Norwegian partner Christian Sorum have become the top-ranked team in the world.

“Those boys inspire me a lot,” she said. “That’s how I want Brooke [Sweat] and I to play, really.”

Walsh Jennings met Mol in his native country at the 2009 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships in Stavanger. Mol attended with his father, Kare, who was coaching the Norwegian teams, as well as his brother Hendrik and cousin Mathias Berntsen.

Walsh Jennings noticed the young Norwegians, who are now nicknamed the “Beachvolley Vikings,” eagerly doing the pepper drill on the sand between matches from 6 a.m. until well after dark.   

“She walked by and told us, ‘Hey, you guys are so good that if you guys keep practicing, you’re going to be playing on this stage one day,’” Mol recalled.

Mol’s passion for the sport only increased as he hit puberty.

As a teenager, he derailed his family’s vacation plans in San Diego by making them battle traffic up to Los Angeles to hear Walsh Jennings give a speech.

Childhood photo of Mol and Walsh Jennings. Courtesy of Anders Mol.

At 13 or 14, Mol and his brother beat their parents for the first time. Impressive, considering Mol’s father was a former national indoor team player and his mother, Merita Mol (née Berntsen), competed in beach volleyball at the 1996 Olympics.

At 16, he enrolled in ToppVolley Norway, a beach and indoor volleyball school that is a two-hour boat ride north from Stavanger. For three years, the boys would attend classes, lift weights and train for a minimum of 20 hours per week. Free time often meant pick-up soccer matches, which occasionally proves useful on the sand.

“It doesn’t look like Hogwarts,” Mol said, “but it sounds like Hogwarts because everybody is like a big family in this school.”

When Mol graduated, he played a year of professional indoor volleyball in Belgium. But he quickly realized that he preferred the freedom of beach volleyball, where players book their own travel, hire their own coaches and schedule their own practices.

In 2017, Mol was named the international tour’s top rookie. By the end of the 2018 season, Mol and Sorum had firmly established themselves as the world’s top team, winning their final three international tournaments including the FIVB World Tour Finals.

They have not slowed down in 2019, winning three tournaments on three different continents over three weeks in May. They have won 36 of their last 38 matches.

“The best blocker right now is Anders, and the best defender is Christian,” said three-time U.S. Olympian Jake Gibb. “It’s not really fair.”

The only two teams who have defeated the Norwegians since April 28 — Germany’s Julius Thole/Clemens Wickler and Brazil’s Bruno Schmidt/Evandro Goncalves — did not offer any clues on how to do it.

Wickler admitted that “in no other stadium would we have won this game” after the Hamburg world championships semifinal played July 6 in front of more than 12,000 hometown fans, the largest crowd either team had ever experienced. Mol and Sorum rebounded to claim the bronze medal the next day over Americans Tri Bourne and Trevor Crabb.

Bruno rebuffed multiple teams who approached him looking for the secret to beating Norway.

“I’ve never seen a player like Anders who is so powerful and so skilled at the same time,” said Bruno, the 2016 Olympic champion with former partner Alison. “Players like that raise the level of this sport.”

Much of their success can be attributed to their defensive scheme. Most teams play a “zone defense,” with each player defending half of the court. The Norwegians play a “read defense” that gives each player the freedom to react and move to where they think the attacking player will hit the ball.

NBC Sports analyst Kevin Wong compared the Norwegians to “free safeties” in football.

“They are the most innovative defensive team we’ve seen in a long time,” he said.

The pair is relatively unknown outside Norway — neither has a Wikipedia page in English — and even in Norway they claim they are nowhere near as famous as the Alpine skiers nicknamed the “Attacking Vikings.”

But that will change.

At worlds, the pair hired a videographer to capture content for their YouTube and Instagram channels. They launched a Beachvolley Vikings clothing line that includes a “Sleeping Christian” shirt. They patiently fulfilled each and every request for pictures and autographs after matches.

“They are like rock stars,” said American Taylor Crabb, talking extra loud to be heard over a crowd of teenage girls hoping to take a selfie with the tall, blonde Norwegians. “Fans can relate to them because they see guys around their age becoming the No. 1 team the world.”

It is not just fans who are lining up to see the Norwegians.

“I love to watch them play,” said 2016 Brazilian Olympian Pedro Solberg, who made his international debut when Mol was just 8. “Every chance I get to watch them I do, because I learn a lot from them.”

Whether Mol and Sorum struggle with anything is up for debate. When asked, Kare boasted about beating them at the card game “President and the bum.”

“They are really smart in beach volleyball,” he said, “but they are really stupid in card playing.”

But both players disputed their coach’s claim.

“It’s not true at all,” Sorum said. “He loses even when he has the best cards.”

The Beachvolley Vikings are just getting started. 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser pointed out that beach volleyball players typically do not peak until their late 20s or early 30s.

“In my book, they are already among the top teams to ever play,” he said. “There are no holes in their game. I don’t see why they can’t keep this going.”

OlympicTalk editor Nick Zaccardi contributed to this report.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Brazil Olympic beach volleyball champs form dangerous teams after split