RIO DE JANEIRO -- Emma Coburn made history at Olympic Stadium with a third-place finish in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase that brought home the first American medal in the event’s history.
Coburn’s time of 9 minutes, 7.63 seconds was 3.13 seconds faster than the American record she set in May. Her ninth-place finish four years ago at London had equaled the best U.S. result since the event was introduced at Beijing in 2008.
Ruth Jebet of Bahrain won the gold medal with a time of 8:59.75. Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi of Kenya finished second. Colleen Quigley of the U.S. finished eighth, and Courtney Frerichs was 11th.
“I feel so lucky that this is now part of my story,” Coburn said. “I feel lucky that it gets to be me but the two women who just finished eighth and 11th are so impressive. I really think in the next four, eight, 12 years, we are going to have more and more women winning medals.”
Coburn’s London results only drove and taught her leading up to the 2016 Games. Her teammate and training partner, Jennifer Simpson (then Barringer), finished ninth at the 2008 Games.
Having experienced the Opening and Closing ceremonies, the Olympic Village and all the other ins and outs that the Games bring, she was able to focus solely on her race in Rio.
“This time around, it was more about seven and a half laps and seeing how good I could be,” Coburn said. “This was all about medals today.”
Not only did Coburn win the first medal, the team also had its most successful finish in the Games. The U.S. also qualified three women in the 2015 World Championship finals.
All three American women believe that their finish displays how much the event is progressing in the U.S., as high school and collegiate runners are now choosing to run the steeplechase rather than being placed into it for lack of fit elsewhere.
“More young women are choosing the event in college because they want to be good at it, not because it’s a default event,” Coburn said. “Ten to 15 years ago, people just did it because it was there, and now they seek it out. I really think the next few years are going to be a continuation of this trend.”
Coburn is the trailblazer for American steeplechasers. She is the only U.S. woman to compete in the event at two Olympic Games and has been the competitor to beat since she first set an American record in 2014. She has held the record since then and has lowered it several times.
“I’ve looked up to (Coburn) since I was a freshman and I first learned the steeplechase,” said Frerichs, the 2016 NCAA steeplechase champion. “My coach told me ‘Look up videos of Emma Coburn, she’s the one that you need to aspire to be like.’”
Quigley quickly agreed.
“Looking up at the scoreboard and seeing a three made me momentarily forget about my own pain,” Quigley said. “Even though it wasn’t me, I was almost as happy that it was (Coburn). She obviously really deserves it.”
Coburn’s leadership was evident after the race, as she hugged both teammates and congratulated them before addressing the media. She was quick to say that they are both already ahead of her in comparison to her first Olympic Games.
“Even though it wasn’t the race I personally wanted,” Quigley said, “her performance was a bronze lining.”
Nicole Chrzanowski is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.