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Coburn talks Olympics, french fries, and her future

Sets new personal record

It was standing room only at the Majestic Theater for a viewing and KBUT did a play-by-play broadcast of Emma Coburn’s Olympic finals steeplechase race on Monday, August 6.
Coming into the Olympics, Coburn, the youngest athlete on the U.S. track and field team at 21, was ranked 11th in the world in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and all she was looking for was to improve upon her world championships effort last year when she finished 12th.
After taking third in her preliminary heat on Saturday, she lined up for the finals on Monday against the top steeplechase athletes in the world to run a personal best time of 9:23.54 and place ninth overall.
Following the race, Coburn responded to a Q&A from the Sports Barrel.

Let’s start with the prelims, can you describe the scene/energy lining up for the heat?
I just tried to keep my focus on the race and tried to not get swept away in the moment. It is incredible to be here and to have that many people cheering in the stadium. But I had to just focus on my race and what I had to do. I had to try and ignore what I could.
How was your prelim competition?
It was tough! I had the most difficult heat I think, with the majority of the best people. I finished third in my prelim, and the two women who beat me ended up winning the silver and the bronze in the final.
How did it feel when one athlete (Cruz) went down and there you were in the lead of a race, at the Olympics?
I had to lead at the World Championships prelim last year and knew that there was a chance I had to lead this year. Again, I just had to ignore the fact that it was “The Olympics!” and had to focus on my race. It was a great experience and leading that race was something I’ll never forget.
How was the race pace? Similar to Worlds last year?
In the final, the race was fast, and then when the front women started accelerating, I just couldn’t keep up.
Did that race go according to plan?
I didn’t really want to lead that much, but I lead at the World’s Prelim so knew it was a possibility. I just wanted to be top four to get the automatic stop, but also wanted to run fast to make sure I had the time qualifier too.
Two top-flight steeplechase races in three days… how did your body/mind feel on the day of the finals?
I felt so much better than I did a year ago, both physically and emotionally. I was so excited to race and was mentally really ready. Physically, I felt ready too. I think obviously that the prelim made me tired for the final, but I still had enough in my tank to race well.

What was the plan for the finals?
The plan was to just stay attached to the pack as long as I could, and if/when I couldn’t hang on anymore, just try and stay on  a quick pace and not finish slowly.

Did you discuss the possibility of a similar Cruz-type mishap and how to avoid it?
We didn’t discuss it, but I was ready for anything. I was expecting more traffic and was expecting a lot more physical race. It was really physical, lots of pushing and my legs are all scratched from other people’s spikes hitting me. But I was expecting it so that was okay.

You admit to a little nerves, but typically not much, before big races; how about when you headed onto the track and lined up for the Olympic finals?
Like I said, I tried to tune out “The OLYMPICS!” and just focus on my race, my competition, and what I knew my body was ready to run. I thought I maybe would have had a big surge of nerves beforehand but it never came and I was actually pretty calm.

How was the finals pace? Faster out of the gate or what you expected?
It was actually slower for the first 400m or 600m than I expected. After then, it started getting faster, which is what I expected.

Did your finals race go according to plan?
It did. I was hoping to just be engaged in the race and not fall off the pack right away like I fell off at Worlds last year. I stayed with the pack for most of the race (about 2 kilometers) and I was happy with that. In general, it went to plan. What I wasn’t anticipating though was the accordion effect of the front group going over barriers. Everyone would slow down coming into a barrier, and then sprint out of it, and being at the end of the pack, the accordion effect was worse. Lots of surging, and I wasn’t expecting that.

Ninth place and a new PR! Did you leave it all on the track?
Yeah, I did. I am really happy with the new PR and proud to be 9th in the world. I beat my ranking coming into the meet (11th) and beat my finish from last year (12th) so overall I am very satisfied.

How do you feel about your Olympic experience?
It has been great. Meeting so many great athletes and staying in the village have both been great experiences. The Opening Ceremony was also such a great experience. I will never forget the moment I walked in. It was so surreal.

Watching your sleep/diet/workouts/etc. to prepare, are you now going to hit the free McDonalds with a vengeance? Just kidding, how will you spend the rest of the Olympics?
I’ll spend the next few days with my family. I did hit up McDonalds and got some fries, but there is still some damage to be done there…looking forward to some more fries! I have a race in Stockholm, Sweden (a diamond league event on August 17th) so I am still training. I leave London for Sweden on the 14th.

In the bigger scheme, now what? Senior year at CU? Professional career? It’s a long way off but with one Olympics under your belt, are you fired up for a run at 2016 with medal contention in mind?
I’m looking forward to my senior year at CU. It will be nice to have a big break from racing this fall when I don’t have cross-country. Then indoor and outdoor track. I love track and so that will be a fun last semester. Then after that, assuming I am healthy, I would sign a professional contract. I am looking forward to the future years and hope to be in Rio, but I have to focus on the immediate future first.

Anything else?
Just a huge thank you to the Crested Butte community and to all those who went to the Majestic to watch. I feel so lucky! You are all so incredible. Thank you.

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