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Olympic Trials Day 7: The steeplechase is brutal
Emma Coburn won her ninth national title with a meet record of 9:09.41.
To quote Olivia Rodrigo, it’s brutal out here.
It’s hard to feel any other way after watching the sole track event final of Thursday night: the women’s steeplechase. Pre-race favorites Emma Coburn, 30, and Courtney Frerichs, 28, went 1-2 in accordance with the form charts, with 2017 world champion Coburn earning her ninth U.S. title, making her third Olympic team and setting a meet record of 9:09.41. This win had added significance for Coburn, whose mother is currently fighting stage 4 cancer. Meanwhile, Frerichs dedicated her race to teammate Shelby Houlihan, who is currently appealing a four-year ban from competition.
That third Olympic team spot, though, was always going to be up for grabs — especially after 2016 Olympian Colleen Quigley’s withdrawal from the event earlier this week.
When Frerichs broke the race open around the halfway mark, Leah Falland (neé O’Connor) took quickly to the challenge and looked comfortable running in third. But with two laps remaining, she stumbled coming off a hurdle, and crumpled to the ground. She was able to pop up and maintain her third-place position, but the field had inched back up and at that point her momentum was completely shot. And then came in 25-year-old Val Constien (like Coburn, a former Colorado Buff) — who handled the final water barrier like a pro and crossed the line in 9:18.34 to claim the final spot to Tokyo while Falland, 28, faded to ninth.
For Constien, who still trains under her college coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs and works a full-time job, making the Olympics is a fairytale moment. She won one Pac-12 title in the steeplechase in 2019 and never finished higher than fifth at the NCAA Championships. This year, she’s taken 24 seconds off her personal best.
“A couple of weeks ago, I woke up and thought, ‘huh, I might be able to do it,’” she said to Lewis Johnson after the race.
She still seemed in shock immediately following the run.
“The fact that Leah fell down, I think was a big mix-up, because she had just as good of an opportunity as me,” Constien said in the media mixed zone. “It breaks my heart to see that happen but it’s a part of racing. I’m really, really happy to be here and I think I earned it and I think I worked hard. But I think if Leah hadn’t fallen down, I mean, she might be sitting in this seat.”
A collective gasp went out on Track Twitter with Falland’s fall — as much as that is possible to do. It’s a sadly familiar position for the former Michigan State star — who was in the third-place position at the end of the race in both 2015 and 2016, but failed to make the team. Since 2016, she’s suffered major injuries, nearly walked away from the sport entirely, and ultimately clawed her way back to fitness under coach Dathan Ritzenhein and his new On Running training group in Boulder. It would have been a great story to see her finally make the team. But that’s the Trials for you.
“I knew I could do it. I knew it was in there. It was kind of shocking, to be honest,” Falland said in an emotional post-race interview. “I’m sorry guys, I’m just really, really sad. I’ve worked really, really hard to get back to a place where I could contend for that team and I wasn’t afraid at all. I believe in myself wholeheartedly and I felt like I was in a really good position, just settled in in third. I could feel us peeling away from the rest of the pack and that’s what I had envisioned. Yeah, I don’t know. I’m probably going to replay it thousands of times in my mind, trying to figure out exactly what happened and what I can do to prevent that from happening again. I knew I could do it, I know I can do it. Brutal. It’s brutal.”
Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
Emma Coburn, 9:09.41
Courtney Frerichs, 9:11.79
Val Constien, 9:18.34
Courtney Wayment, 9:23.09
Marisa Howard, 9:24.74
Grayson Murphy, 9:25.55
Mel Lawrence, 9:26.15
Allie Ostrander, 9:26.96
Leah Falland, 9:27.06
Katie Rainsberger, 9:30.18
Summer Allen, 9:40.22
Alexina Wilson, 9:40.62
Mahala Norris, 9:41.59
Katy Kunc, 9:47.82
Takeaways from Day 5
The women’s shot put was red-hot on Thursday night as Jessica Ramsey and Raven Saunders both broke the Olympic Trials meet record with top marks of 20.12m and 19.96m, respectively. Ramsey’s winning mark makes her the fourth-best thrower in U.S. history. NCAA champion Adelaide Aquilla of Ohio State took the third spot to Tokyo with a top throw of 18.95m while former NCAA star Maggie Ewen had to settle for fourth.
Gabby Thomas, who trains in Austin, Texas under former UT coach Tonja Buford-Bailey, ran a world-leading time of 21.98 in the 200m prelims. 100m champ Sha’Carri Richardson scratched the event, but this should still be a lights-out final with Jenna Prandini (who also trains in ATX, but under current UT head coach Edrick Floreal) clocking a smooth 22.14 to win her section.
There were no major casualties in the men’s 1500m, but heat 1 was notable for newly minted pro high schooler Hobbs Kessler’s smooth victory. If he were to make the Olympic team in the 1500m, he’d be the first prep to do so since Jim Ryun.
Of the three high school girls entered in the 800m, two advanced to the next round: Juliette Whittaker (2:01.21) and Roisin Willis (2:01.27). All the major favorites also advanced, including Athing Mu in her brand-new Nike kit.
Carnage in the men’s 400m hurdles prelims saw NCAA champion Sean “Squirrel” Burrell of LSU fail to advance. Quincy Hall, Amere Lattin and Quincy Downing were other casualties. Reigning world champion Rai Benjamin advanced easily in 49.12 while Kenny Selmon had the fastest time of the day in 49.03.
Paul Chelimo led qualifiers in the men’s 5K with a winning mark of 13:36.66, but 35-year-old Garrett “old man strength” Heath stole the show on Track Twitter by muscling to an auto Q with a fifth-place, 13:44.48 run in heat 1.
More from the U.S. Olympic Trials
Former Texas star Ryan Crouser shatters outdoor world record in shot put win at Trials, Austin American-Statesman
At 19, NCAA Star Athing Mu Says She’s “Made for This,” Women’s Running
Born to run? Olympic hopeful Sarah Lancaster made her mark at Texas in tennis, basketball, Austin American-Statesman
Everything Is Clicking at the Right Time for Josette Norris, Runner’s World