Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerich take gold, silver in Steeplechase in Amazingly Insane Steeplechase (from Archives in honor of late Horace Ashenfelter, RunBlogRun August 2017)

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Originally posted August 11, 2017

Reposted on January 7, 2018

Horace Ashenfelter died on January 6, 2018, at the wonderful age of 94. Horace Ashenfelter won the Olympic steeplechase in 1952, the first and last American male to do such an thing. In his honor, we are reposting several pieces on this wonderful man, classmate of our late editor, James Dunaway, and former FBI agent, Penn State grad, and winner of 18 AAU national titles, from cross country to 10k.

I sure hope Horace Ashenfelter was able to see this race on TV. It would have made his heart happy. For Emma and Courtney, like our favorite Penn State grad did sixty five years ago, ran with full emotion and heart, and surpassed their dreams!

The 2017 London World Championship women's steeplechase was the finest steeplechase in WC history, and it showcased the amazing strength of Team USA.

Those who have watched Emma Coburn develop over the past six years have watched her confidence while racing change as well. The steeplechase is a tough event, 27 barriers and 7 water jumps and 3000 meters.

Coburn_EmmaFV1b-WorCH17.jpgEmma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs go gold and silver in London steeplechase! photo by PhotoRun.net

The pace went out at 3:02 for 1k and 6:05 for 2k. Courtney Frerichs (PB of 9:20.6, 2016) , Emma Coburn (9:07.63, 2016) followed Ruth Jebet (Olympic champion, WR holder, 8:52.78), Celliphene Chespol (under 20 WR holder) , Beatrice Chepkoech (Pre winner, 9:00.70 steeple PB) and Hyvin Jepkemoi (PB of 9:00.01, Pre 2016). This was a scarily experienced field. Oh, a quick addition on Hyvin Jepkemoi: silver medal Rio Olympic steeple, gold in 2015 WC steeple).

The most bizarre thing in the race was just at the first water jump, Beatrice Chepkoech bizarrely missed the first water jump, reversed her steps, and went over the barrier legally. She took about 300 meters to catch up with the pack. Emma Coburn was in fifth place, with Chepkoech, Chespol, Jebet and Jepkemoi in front.

Running out of her mind, Courtney Frerichs was running with the front pack, just behind Coburn as they hit 2k.

Emma Coburn looked to be running within herself. The pace, and perhaps the prolific racing of Ruth Jebet, Cellphine Chespol, and Beatrice Chepkoech all season caught up with them. " This was a very challenging championship," noted Hyvin Jepkemoi.

The early pace in this steeple was, well, nearly unprecedented. Normally, women's steeple will go 3:04, 6:10 and then, negative split for final kilometers. This time, it was fast from the start. And the weather was near perfect, as London di its impersonation of a cool summer night in Scandinavia.

The final kilometer was a near perfect run by Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs. Jebet and Chespol had worn themselves out, and over the penultimate lap, Coburn, with Frerichs by her side were up with Jebet, Chespol, Chepkoech and Jepkemoi. Emma Coburn had shared with us, post-race, that her plan was to follow Hyvin Jepkemoi, who Emma noted, " runs smart pace and rarely goes out too fast."

This was the perfect storm for the steeplechase!

The bell was hit in 7:54 and there were six runners. Who was going to crack first? Well, not the Americans. The first to go off the back was Jebet, With 250 meters to go, Frerichs started to push past Coburn, but not for long. Coburn took control on the penultimate barrier, as Chepkoech, worn out from her catch up move after the water barrier snafu. Near the final barrier, Ruth Jebet, the world record holder, and Olympic champion, started to fall apart. Celliphine Chespol was behind Jebet, as the world junior was a bit raced out this season, in my humble opinion.

"Joe, my coach (and fiance), told me to stay up during the second kilometer, and you know, in past I have been cautious during the second kilometer. I stayed with the front pack and felt good at 2k." noted an ebullient Coburn, post race.

At the final water jump, Ruth Jebet had fallen back, and Chespol was further back. The battle was Emma Coburn, who went on inside of water jump. Jepkemoi was on center of water jump and Frerichs went on the outside. Chepkoech was right behind Jepkemoi on the final crowded barrier.

" Joe had told me to push the final water jump (a tactic used by 1952 American gold medalist Horace Ashenfelter to win the Olympic steeple gold), and I did." noted Emma Coburn.

Emma Coburn got a few meters on Jepkoech and Frerich as they hit the final barrier. Emma got over that and sprinted for home, setting a Championship record of 9:02.59 a new American record. Courtney Frerichs was silver in 9:03.77 PB. In the bronze, Hyvin Jepkemoi ran 9:04.03. Jepkemoi told the media that she was happy to get a medal and that the US runners had done well. "9:02-9:03 is very good for a championships."

Courtney Frerichs listened to her coaches, Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert of Bowerman TC. "Jerry and Pascal told me to stay with Emma, as she runs great pace." noted Courtney Frerich.

Totally impressed with Frerich, who made three seperate charges over the last 300 meters. After the final barrier, Courtney Frerich saw her opportunity and went by, on the inside of a fading Hyving Jepkoech, who seemed in shock in the press event afterwards.

The women's steeplechase opened a night of amazing performances by American women in long jump, steeple, which have continued all week long. If I was asked about why this is happening, I would suggest that training groups, higher quality of US athletes and the beginning results of aggressive out of competition drug testing that is beginning to show its affects on the seven or eight countries that were not supporting a consistent drug testing system.

In the end, this was a brilliant race, with six or seven women who could have won. On this wonderfully end of summer night in London, in front of 65,000 screaming British fans, Emma Coburn fulfilled her dream, and Courtney Frerichs surpassed her dream!

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