Emma Coburn: Choosing the steeplechase, by Larry Eder

After two NCAA championships at the steeplechase and one NCAA title at the indoor mile, Emma Coburn graduated as the top active American women steeplechaser. Her desire to be a professional athlete was met with smile by the folks at New Balance who made her dream come true (with thanks to her agent, Ray Flynn).


After the NCAA's and the New Balance announcement, Emma ended her season, with a back injury. She needed a break. She took a vacation and "got healthy". Emma has been training since September, and has been at full load since the end of October. 

We interviewed Emma at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix press conference. Thanks to Emma for her thoughtful answers and to Mary Lawton/NB for her help and kindness, as always. 
Emma Coburn's involvement with the steeplechase dates back to high school. " My father was taking me to the Great Southwest Invitational and he did not want to just drive the long trip for the 800 meters. So, he looked on the schedule and saw the steeplechase was the next day. So, we were like, okay, let's try it. So, I went to Western University in Crested Butte and the coach, Jen Michaels, had a steeplechaser take me through the 400 meters with barriers in 80 seconds. Then, I went off and ran my first steeple. " Emma took fourth in her first steeple, and second in the same race in her senior year. 

Emma set the American Junior record in 2009, with her 10:06.21 for the steeplechase. Anyone who knows the steeplechase realizes that a near ten minute time is a pretty impressive feat. 

Barb Franek, Emma Coburn, US Outdoors, 2011, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

" I grew up doing a zillion sports. I like competing in other sports, besides running in a straight line. I like the steeple because it is more athletic and it does not include just running, it includes some jumping." 

"Because I had some experience in high school, I was going to run the steeple in college. But, as the steeple is a spring sport, I had to become a better runner." Emma ran cross country for the Buffaloes, all four years in college, but she she admitted, that the fall discipline is not her favorite. 

" I took off the summer, had a vacation, and started running in early September." Emma Coburn told us that she has been at full training load since the end of October. "Training has been going well." 

What does she want to do for this year? 

" I am going to focus on the Diamond League events, and hope to get under 9:20." Emma Coburn has run 4:06.64 for the 1,500 meters, and with her 9:23.54 personal best, that looks possible for 2014.

Emma Coburn made the final of the World Championships in 2011, as a junior, finishing twelfth and running 9:51.40. In 2012, Emma was the youngest member of the Olympic track team, at 21, and finished ninth in the final, with a personal best of 9:23.54. 

When this writer discusses that the tall, athletic Coburn looks like a poster child for the steeplechase, and compares her to 9:12.5 performance of Jenny Simpson. Ms. Coburn is firm, " Jenny was in fantastic shape when she ran the America record. I would like to run close to that, but that is not in the near future." Respect for her training partner, but also, a knowledge of the self is key for a successful elite athlete.

Thumbnail image for Coburn_EmmaQ1c-OlyT12.jpg
Emma Coburn, US Olympic Trials, July 2012, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

Already, in her young career, Emma Coburn has Olympian after her name. Watch this young women, as she has many barriers to hurdle before she sleeps.

But for this Saturday, February 8, 2014, Emma Coburn will open her season with a 2,000 meter run at the famed Reggie Lewis Center. "It will be my first race in some time, and I am looking at it as a test."

We look forward to seeing Emma Coburn over the barriers later this year, hurdling the barriers like few others, and showing that one can choose the event, and not let the event choose them. 

The former Washington state coach, John Chaplin told this writer one time that the ideal steeplechaser was a pretty good 800 meter runner, tall of stature, flexible, and athletic. That is a fine description of Emma Coburn, who could rule the American steeplechase for the next decade. 

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