With the shining talents of Galen Rupp and Jenny Simpson lighting up American long and middle distance running on the world stage so brightly, it sometimes becomes easy for the brilliance of the nation’s other runners to get lost within it all.
But for its unfashionable nature, the steeplechase would certainly have a case for being one of America’s most popular events right now. After years of being someway off the top, the United States now possesses two genuine world stars in Evan Jager and Emma Coburn. It showed Sunday evening at the Continental Cup.
Running against strong field s that both included the top athletes around, they came, they saw an almost completely conquered.
For Coburn it was the perfect end to a season of huge improvement, taking victory from the Ethiopian Hiwot Ayalew after digging as deep as she could to catch her rival in the closing stages and become inter-continental champion.
As for Jager, it was to be runners up spot behind Jarius Birech, the undeniable champion of 2014, but not by much. On numerous occasions the Kenyan tried to break him, but he stood tall, every time the gap opened, it was closed again. When Evan broke for home at 500m, it seemed he might get gold, but on the last water jump one small slip cost the American and Birech was gone.
He stretched his long legs as much as he could, his blond hair swishing around his trademark white Nike headband, but it was not to be.
Whatever had been the end result this evenings competition the verdict would have been the same, this is the best they’ve ever had it. Both athletes have pushed the boundaries for an American in the event further than it has ever been this year.
Who can forget the way Coburn shocked the Africans with her electric starting pace to break their resolve and win the Shanghai Diamond League or how Jager ran so well in Brussels last week to eclipse his own American record, even with the tiredness of a long hard season in his legs.
By even coming in the top three tonight, Coburn achieved what no other athlete from the America’s has ever done in World Cup/Continental Cup history and it’s probably not too different for Evan.
While Jager has been going on a constant upward trajectory since he finished 6th at the 2012 Olympics, Coburn’s prominence is a little more surprising, especially given that she spent the majority of last year out injured.
Although she had been expecting to go below 9.20 this year, she had no idea it would go as well as it has: “I thought I’d definitely be running under 9.20 this year but to be 9.11 is a bit of a surprise and I think that’s attributed to my hard work.
“A year ago I was on a beach in Hawaii, on crutches, having fun but not being healthy so at that point I didn’t think I’d grab the American record.”
With such good progress having been made by both athletes, it seems only natural that the next step is to gain World Championship medals and they know it: “I’m going to be shooting for the top 3(In the world); since I began running one of my biggest dreams as an athlete was to medal at a major championships. I’m going to do everything I can to stay healthy and get a little bit stronger and learn the event a bit better.” Jager told me.
“I hope to continue to run aggressively and running hard from the gun, I like running that way so I hope I can continue to do that and to focus on beating some of the Kenyan’s and Ethiopians that have been so dominant so I hope I can continue to be in the top few in the world and be in Beijing healthy and ready to run well.” Coburn added.
While only time will tell if their form in 2014 can be converted into silverware, one thing’s for sure: these are two athletes going in the right direction and America needs to get behind them.