by Than Acuff
the summer games in 2012 to London was just the taster; now locally raised athlete Emma Coburn is making her second trip to the Olympics and this time she’s going for some hardware.
Coburn won the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. on Thursday, July 7 and will represent the United States at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 5-21.
Coburn is the current American record holder and cruised to her second straight U.S. Olympic Trials Championship, winning in a time of 9:17.48—3.44 seconds faster than the runner-up, which is the largest margin of victory in trials history. It was also her fifth overall U.S. Championship title.
It was no surprise that Coburn won—she was heavily favored—and the race played out as expected, though there were some concerns about unexpected mishaps leading up to the race.
“There were a lot of falls at the trials and a lot of champions and former Olympians failed to qualify,” says Coburn. “A lot of carnage and a lot of surprises.”
Coburn and her coaches, Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs, were mindful of the chance for carnage in her race but not obsessed with it.
“At the trials the first priority is to secure a spot on the team,” says Burroughs. “We knew there wasn’t a reason to bury herself in the pack, just stay near the front and on the second pass, assert herself.”
“The plan was that if an accident were to happen, stay calm and stay as relaxed as possible,” says Coburn. “Top-three and qualifying is what matters, not necessarily winning. I wasn’t thinking defensively though. I just wanted to race hard and win.”
Ultimately, Coburn covered all of her bases, sliding in behind the leaders for the first 2,000 meters and then took over in front for the final 1,000 meters for the win.
“It’s a relief to know that things went according to plan,” says Coburn.
This marks Coburn’s second trip to the summer Olympics. She qualified for the games in London, England in 2012 and admits her expectations were different then.
“In 2012 the goal was to be in the finals and run as fast as I could in the finals and I did that,” says Coburn.
Coburn ended up placing ninth when all was said and done.
Four years later, expectations are much higher as she has ascended the ranks of her event worldwide. She finished the 2014 season ranked second in the world, and placed fifth at the World Championships in 2015. Coburn currently has the third-fastest time in the 3,000-meter steeplechase for 2016, setting a new American record of nine minutes and 10 seconds.
“I’m definitely a lot fitter and a lot faster and my increased fitness has given me more confidence,” says Coburn. “I’m lucky to have had a lot of international racing experience the past four to five years.”
“She’s certainly more accomplished and has more expectations,” says Burroughs.
Coburn went back to workouts immediately following the trials with additional work to be done the next three weeks before tapering off for the Olympic games.
“Back to work, back to the fold,” says Coburn. “Intense training and intense fitness. I will continue doing what I’ve been doing and staying healthy.”
“We’ll train pretty hard for three weeks, it’s definitely back to work,” says Burroughs. “She’s excellent technically and there’s 35 barriers, but there’s a lot of running between those barriers. We think Emma can be even better by mid-August.”
Burroughs does recognize that there are a lot of steeplers out there and Coburn is still quite a ways back from the top two in the world, with former world champions and the notoriously strong steeplers from Ethiopia and Kenya all lining up for the race in Rio.
“It’s pretty crowded at the front,” says Burroughs.
Still, with success on the international scene and her fitness and speed improving with each race, thoughts of bringing home some Olympic hardware are definitely in Coburn’s mind.
“I want a medal but anything better than fifth will be good, and a medal would be great,” says Coburn.