The women’s steeplechase was one of the highlights of the 2021 US Olympic Trials. Emma Coburn won her third straight Olympic Trials title and ninth US title. Cortney Frerichs took second and would join Emma on Frerich’s first Olympic team.
Leah Falland and Emma Coburn, steeplechase, photo by Kevin Morris/Kevmofoto
The Olympic Trials are hotly contested in all events. The women’s steeplechase is just one of them. Dathan Ritzenhein, the coach of Leah Falland, had been working with her for three years, the last as part of the new, hot running club On running.
For six laps, Leah was running the race of her life, as she had all season, running the best season in five years, as she prepared to challenge for the Olympic team.
As the sixth lap began, Leah Falland hit a barrier, and while she battled the good fight, she went from third to ninth, her Olympic dream evaporating.
Matt Wisner explains the story below. I told the media table at the Runnerspace roundtable on Friday night, that I could not write about Leah’s race yet, as I had to give it some time, to give it proper respect.
In my mind, Leah Falland lives the Olympic ideal each and every day, as does anyone who tries for the US Olympic Trials. I hope, in time, Leah sees that and we see her battling for another team, and making one.
She deserves it, and she is talented enough to make a global championship team.
Leah Falland Falls in Steeplechase, Misses Olympic Team
by Matt Wisner
SOJC Track Bureau for RunBlogRun
Leah Falland fell hard. With just two laps remaining, Thursday in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, Falland’s foot clipped the barrier. Her legs folded over themselves, and she laid out on the track, disoriented, facing the wrong direction as she was getting up.
“I’m going to replay it a thousand times in my mind,” Falland said.
She’d been running in third place for most of the race, in a position to secure the final Olympic qualifying spot if she could just hold on.
After the fall, Falland got back up quickly and attached herself to the back of a pack of four women. Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs were far off the front of the field, untouchable. One of the four women in the next pack would ultimately secure the final qualifying position, and Falland knew that. She appeared to reconnect with her rhythm, remaining calm and trying to ride her momentum for the final 700 meters of the race.
Val Constein took third in the steeplechase in a seven-second PB! photo by Kevin Morris /Kevmofoto
But with 150 meters to go, Val Constein barreled forward, and Falland’s adrenaline rush had finally subsided.
Falland saw her Olympic dream slip away in front of her eyes, and then it was as though her body physically responded to her heartbreak; she faded and faded and all but walked across the finish line, five other women passing her by the end.
Falland ultimately placed ninth in 9:27.06.
“I am going to be really sad for a while and I think that’s warranted,” Falland said. “Right now it sucks. It sucks bad.”
Falland has come a long way since the last Olympic cycle in 2016. She’s suffered through a vicious cycle of injuries and hasn’t completed a full season in five years.
“It took years to get excited to race again,” Falland said. “I feel like I have the heart of an Olympian, even if it doesn’t go that way.”
The three women who will advance to Tokyo are Coburn, Frerichs, and Constein, who finished in respective times of 9:09.41, 9:11.79, and 9:18.34.
Coburn was quick to embrace Falland when the race was over. “My heart broke when I saw her fall,” Coburn said. “I know she’s more than this moment, and she’ll have many great moments after today.”
Cortney Frerichs, second place, steeplechase, photo by Kevin Morris / Kevmofoto
Many people see the fall as a tragic coincidence, but it’s a routine challenge in the steeplechase; after laps of jumping over barriers, the runners will inevitably be tired. Every lap that passes, it’s more difficult for the runner to lift her legs. The smallest error can ruin a race.
Leah Falland, Courtney Frerichs, steeplechase, photo by Kevin Morris/Kevmofoto
Or be the difference between qualifying for the Olympics or not.
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