All-American in the steeplechase
Don’t be surprised if you hear the name Emma Coburn announced at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England.
In just her second year of running in the steeplechase, Coburn has reached the pinnacle of the sport at the high school level, placing second in the 2,000-meter steeplechase at the 2008 Nike Outdoor Nationals held in Greensboro, N.C. June 19-21.
The top-seeded high school athletes from around the nation converge at the Nike Outdoor Nationals to compete.
Coburn’s ascent to steeplechase prominence started last year as a junior at the Southwest Track Classic in New Mexico. Coburn intended to run the 800-meter and two-mile events at the meet but at the last moment, she decided, along with her father Bill Coburn and coach Trent Sanderson, to give the 2,000-meter steeplechase a try.
In the end Coburn won the event and qualified for the 2007 Nike Outdoor Nationals.
Coburn stomped onto the national scene at last year’s Nike Nationals, placing fourth as a relative unknown and attracting the attention of the top Division I college programs in the nation.
Ultimately, Coburn earned a full scholarship for track at the University of Colorado, Boulder and closed her high school career at Crested Butte Community School with two more state titles in May, for a total of eight state titles over her four-year career.
Coburn continued her training to return to the meet in New Mexico as well as the Nike Outdoor Nationals once again.
Coburn ran 7:00.52 in the 2,000-meters steeple in New Mexico on June 6 to take first place, shattering a four-year-old meet record in the event.
“That went well,” says Coburn. “I ran seven flat and that was my goal. It was good to get that race in.”
Coburn then set her sights on the upcoming Nationals, spending time training with the help of the Western State track program and Mike Sobecki in Gunnison to work on clearing the assortment of barriers that runners encounter in the steeplechase event.
“I got help with form and strategy,” explains Coburn. “I’m pretty good at the water one, but I’m bad on the other jumps.”
Heading into the nationals, Coburn and Sanderson set four goals: finish, get All-American (finish top six), set a personal record and win.
To reach those goals, Coburn set a pre-race strategy in place.
“I had a plan to stay in the top pack and stay on a 6:40 pace,” says Coburn. “I wanted to be in contention for the win at the end of the race.”
Coburn came into the event the number six seed nationwide and opened the race according to plan, running steady in third place during the first of five laps.
By the second lap, Coburn was comfortably in second place as she and the leader, Shelby Greany, started to pull away from the rest of the field.
Greany and Coburn spent the next three laps battling back and forth, exchanging the lead on three separate occasions. The two were dead-even with 300 meters to go and Coburn gained a stride on the final water barrier. As the two runners made the final turn, Greany put in one last kick to pull back in front, edging out the win by just over a second.
In the end, Coburn hit three of her four goals: finishing, reaching All-American status and setting a new personal record time of 6:44.42.
The next hurdle for Coburn will come as she enters the college-racing scene as a member of the CU Boulder team. She hopes to compete in three events: the 3,000 meters, the 1,500 meters and the steeplechase.
At the collegiate level, the steeplechase makes a jump in distance from 2,000 meters to 3,000 meters.
Sanderson coached at the collegiate level as well as training Olympic athletes and feels Coburn could make the jump to collegiate steeplechase prominence and even Olympic status.
“I think she’ll come around at CU,” says Sanderson. “I talked with the coaches and they think she’ll be playing a leading role in a year or two. She’s got the talent and she’s got the will. Now she has to put it together with the endurance.”
According to Sanderson, the top female steeplechase athlete in the nation will be a senior on the CU team next year when Coburn is a freshman.
“You can’t ask for a better mentor and role model,” says Sanderson.
As for London 2012, Sanderson sees it as a distinct possibility, provided Coburn remains committed and injury-free, two big parts of the Olympic equation.
“There’s a lot of variables,” says Sanderson. “Everything needs to go right.”