EUGENE, Oregon - Colorado's prized pair of NCAA steeplechase champions, Emma Coburn and Shalaya Kipp, finished first and second, respectively, in their U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying heat here Monday and moved a step closer to the London Olympics.
Running in a light rain at Hayward Field, Coburn posted the afternoon's fastest time (9:43.19) in the grueling 3,000-meter event to outpace Nike's Bridget Franek (9:44.05). Kipp, running with Coburn in Heat 1, had the afternoon's fifth-fastest clocking (9:46.17).
Monday's two qualifying heats advanced 14 runners to Friday's steeplechase finals. Neither CU student-athlete has participated in the Olympics, leaving the Buffs training partners anxious for the opportunity to earn a spot on Team USA.
Said Coburn: "My teammate is my biggest competitor, but we're happy to be here and hope we can both make the team."
If the rain can be a deterrent in some events, it might be a blessing in the steeplechase. "I like the rain because it actually cools you down," noted Coburn, who won the NCAA steeple title in 2011 before redshirting the 2012 indoor and outdoor seasons - a move that obviously suited the opportunistic Kipp. She won the inaugural Pac-12 Conference steeplechase crown, then encored by winning the 2012 NCAA title.
Coburn, of Crested Butte, called not competing in the Pac-12 or the NCAAs "weird . . . (but) I've actually done the most mileage consistently this spring than ever before. I'm happy it's (the OIympic Trials) just here."
So was Kipp, who said of her race, "I'll take what I got. I just crossed my fingers to get in the semis and get that 'A' standard (9:43). I wasn't thinking about my time."
Added CU coach Mark Wetmore: "We were hoping for the 'A' standard for Kipp; maybe it was a little rainy for her, I don't know. But it was just a light rain and it was 55 degrees - much better than running in Boulder in 100-degree heat."
Wetmore said Coburn and Kipp "did what they wanted to (in the race); they got it going early and kept the pace honest. The qualifying rounds often are more nerve-wracking than the semifinals. It shouldn't be a problem, but a lot of things can go wrong. It was a good race for both of them."
The afternoon also was good for a pair of CU assistant coaches - Casey Malone and Billy Nelson. Malone advanced to the discus semifinals while Nelson moved into the men's 3,000 meter steeplechase semis. The semifinals/finals in both events are on Thursday.
Among the 12 qualifiers, Malone finished sixth with a throw of 60.71 meters, while Nelson was the last of 14 to advance to the semifinals in his event with a time of 8:35.22.
"My big goal today was accomplished; my goal was to get to the finals," Malone said. "I think I did pretty good; in rainy conditions anything can happen. I wanted to feel patient, which is a big thing in throwing a discus in the rain."
Wetmore said Nelson "didn't look great . . . he said his legs felt heavy. But he's got three days now to feel good and get his legs back under him. He's a lot better than 8:35."
Malone is competing for a third spot on Team USA. He has been in four previous Olympic trials, making the U.S. squad twice (2004, 2008). Nelson, the 2011 USA steeplechase champ, made the 2008 U.S team but did not reach the finals in Beijing. He went into the 2012 Trials focused on what he called "unfinished business."
Malone's top throw on Monday was well behind top qualifier Lance Brooks' toss of 64.08 meters. Also finishing ahead of Malone were Russ Winger (62.61), Jared Rome (61.84), Jason Young (61.34) and Ian Waltz (61.30).
The Olympic "A" Standard in the discus is 65 meters, the "B" Standard 63 meters. Malone's PR is 68.6 meters, thrown in 2009 - nine years after he completed his college career at Colorado State. His top Olympic finish was sixth in 2004.
None of the runners in Nelson's event approached the Olympic "A" Standard of 8:23.10. Monday's top time was posted by Daniel Huling, who ran an 8:29.00.
Also qualifying Monday night for Thursday's 5,000-meter semifinal was former CU runner Brent Vaughn, who finished eighth among 16 qualifiers at 13:45.87. Failing to advance on the women's side of that same event was ex-Buffs runner Renee Metivier Baillie, whose time of 16:01.47 put her at 18th - two places short of moving on.
Tuesday and Wednesday are off days at the Trials, with competition resuming on Thursday and running through Sunday, July 1.