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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Swim meet canceled after FINA’s threat to ban athletes

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GENEVA (AP) — Amid growing conflict between swimmers and their world governing body, an international swimming meet was canceled on Thursday after threats to ban athletes who took part seeking better prize money.

The Italian swim federation called off the Dec. 20-21 competition it was organizing in Turin, saying it acted to protect athletes from FINA.

The Turin meet was linked to a proposed International Swimming League, a privately run operation which aims to operate outside FINA’s control and pay higher prize money.

“FINA declared the event ‘non-approved,’ threatening sanctions against the participating athletes,” Italian officials said in a statement.

FINA, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Olympic champions have long criticized FINA, believing swimmers should be better rewarded, have more say in decisions, and could create their own union.

Olympic champion Adam Peaty of Britain wrote on Thursday on Twitter he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellation.

The politics involved will “galvanize swimmers, not break them,” wrote Peaty, who holds 50m and 100m breaststroke world records.

Peaty has previously supported Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu in her public criticism of FINA, and calls to create a swimmers’ union.

Italian organizers said Peaty, Hosszu and other Olympic champions including Chad le Clos of South Africa and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden were due to take part in their 25-meter pool event. It was scheduled days after the short-course world championships being staged in Hangzhou, China.

The clash of events seemed to provoke FINA into finding more prize money for its worlds event in the smaller pool.

On Nov. 6, FINA added to its promised prize fund for China by almost doubling the total to $2.07 million.

FINA wrote to member federations on Oct. 30 warning of bans of up to two years for taking part in Turin.

However, a European Commission decision last year suggests swimmers could successfully challenge any attempt to limit their right to race and earn money.

The European Union’s executive arm ruled the International Staking Union in breach of anti-trust laws by threatening severe bans for speed skaters who wanted to compete in a South Korean-organized event in Dubai.

The ISU’s threats “also serve to protect its own commercial interests,” the European officials said.

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Simon Ammann believes ski jumping career end is near

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Simon Ammann, the most decorated active ski jumper with four Olympic gold medals, said it is hard to imagine competing beyond this season, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

Ammann, 37, swept the individual Olympic titles in 2002 and 2010 to join retired Finn Matti Nykänen as the only four-time Olympic ski jumping champs.

In PyeongChang, his sixth Olympics, Ammann placed 11th and 13th, one month after making his first World Cup podium in nearly three years. He decided after those Winter Games that he would continue at least one more season, but has no plan to go all the way to a seventh Olympics in 2022, according to Blick.

Ammann has teased retirement since at least 2011 and even said going into the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he was “99 percent sure” they would be his final Games.

The now-father of two first gained crossover celebrity with his surprise Salt Lake City 2002 gold medals, his first wins in top-level international competition. The bespectacled Ammann’s victory screams and resemblance to Harry Potter helped land him on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and one of Europe’s biggest shows, sitting next to Shakira.

Fellow ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan holds the Winter Olympic record of eight appearances. Kasai, 46, has said he plans to go for a ninth participation at Beijing 2022.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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