Emma Coburn wins Olympic Trials, extending record reign amid absence of distance stars

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Steeplechaser Emma Coburn extended the longest reign in U.S. track and field at an Olympic Trials otherwise marked by the fading of the old guard, especially in women’s distance running.

Coburn, who earned a medal of every color among the 2016 Olympics, 2017 Worlds and 2019 Worlds, won the 3000m steeple in 9:09.41 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, on Thursday night. She qualified for a third Olympics by winning a seventh consecutive U.S. title, the best active streak in the sport, and is joined by Courtney Frerichs and Val Constien.

“It’s 10 years of having a target on your back,” said Coburn, who won her first national title in 2011, “but it’s a challenge that I like to rise up to.”

Coburn’s mom, Annie, was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in December 2019 that spread to her liver and lungs. Annie is doing well now, has completed 22 rounds of chemotherapy, with more to come, and is in Eugene this week.

“To share this with her and have her be well, it’s more special than winning today and going to Tokyo,” Coburn told Lewis Johnson on NBC, adding later, “She has surpassed all of her doctor’s expectations. She’s a little miracle. She’s a little Energizer Bunny. You wouldn’t know she’s sick. You wouldn’t know that, internally, her body is going through major crisis.”

Frerichs took second to Coburn on Thursday, just as she did at the 2017 Worlds in a historic U.S. one-two. Constien chopped 7.19 seconds off her personal best for third after Leah Falland tripped and fell after clearing a barrier with just under two laps left. In Tokyo, they take on powerful Kenya, led by world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech.

In Rio, Coburn won the U.S.’ first Olympic steeple medal since 1984 (a bronze).

The U.S.’ top finishers from Rio in other women’s distance events failed to qualify for Tokyo — Jenny Simpson was 10th in the 1500m on Monday, Shelby Houlihan missed Trials due to a doping ban that she disputes and Molly Huddle didn’t enter Trials after hip and hamstring pain. None of the marathoners from 2016 made it back, either. The 800m final is still to come.

Olympic Trials continue Friday with men’s finals in the steeple and discus, plus semifinals in the women’s 200m and 800m and men’s 400m hurdles and 1500m.

TRACK AND FIELD TRIALS: Results | TV Schedule

In Thursday’s other final, Jessica Ramsey won the women’s shot put with a personal-best 20.12-meter throw. She now ranks second in the world in this Olympic cycle, trailing two-time world champion Gong Lijao of China.

“I was counted out,” said Ramsey, who was 19th at the 2016 Olympic Trials and 12th at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships. “I always tell myself I’m No. 1 in everything that I do, and I am a 20-meter thrower.”

Ramsey, who added nearly three feet to her career best, is joined on the Olympic team by 2016 Olympian Raven Saunders and Adelaide Aquilla.

Rio gold medalist Michelle Carter watched the competition from the stands after a June 3 surgery to remove a benign right ankle tumor.

In qualifying action, the most accomplished athlete to fail to advance was 2013 World silver medalist Brenda Martinez in the 800m. Raevyn Rogers and Ajeé Wilson, the 2019 World silver and bronze medalists, and 19-year-old phenom Athing Mu won heats to reach Friday’s semis.

Sean Burrell, who two weeks ago broke the 37-year-old world U20 record in the 400m hurdles, crashed over the eighth hurdle. Burrell was seeded second after winning the NCAA title in that record time at Hayward Field. World silver medalist Rai Benjamin won his heat to make Friday’s semis. Olympic gold medalist Kerron Clement, in scantly racing the last two years, did not meet the qualifying time to enter Trials.

Allyson Felix, who already made the team in the 400m, qualified 10th fastest into Friday’s 200m semis. Felix said her legs were “a little rusty.” Gabby Thomas, who made the 4x100m relay pool, ran the world’s top time since the start of 2020 — a personal-best 21.98.

The 18-year-old Hobbs Kessler won his 1500m heat to reach Friday’s semis, joining Rio Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz.

Kessler, who broke Alan Webb‘s high school 1500m record last month and turned professional this week, could become the second-youngest U.S. Olympic 1500m runner ever after Jim Ryun in 1964.

Rio silver medalist Paul Chelimo won his heat to make Sunday’s 5000m final. Also advancing: Woody Kincaid and Grant Fisher, who went one-two in the 10,000m last Friday.

Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese, the last two Olympic long jump champions, made Saturday’s final.

The 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr and 2016 Olympic silver medalist Sandi Morris were among the 12 qualifiers into Saturday’s pole vault final.

The world’s top three women’s hammer throwers — DeAnna Price, Brooke Andersen and Gwendolyn Berry — were among 12 qualifiers into Saturday’s final.

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