SACRAMENTO, Calif. — University of Colorado alum and volunteer assistant coach Emma Coburn looked as good as ever here Saturday, as she ran away from the field and set a meet record in winning her third national title in the steeplechase in the last four years at the USA Track & Field National Championships.
Coburn, 23, split from the pack at about the halfway point of the 3,000-meter race and finished with a winning time of 9:19.72, close to 60 meters ahead of her nearest competitor, Ashley Higginson.
How good was Coburn’s effort in the 82-degree heat? Higginson actually matched the meet record of 9:27.59 set by Anna Willard in 2008, meaning the ’13 CU graduate knocked almost eight seconds off the previous USATF championship best.
“She doesn’t love the heat, but we were pretty careful about managing it ahead of time, tried to keep her optimistic about things,” said CU head coach Mark Wetmore, who still trains Coburn. “We thought if she could be right there at or near the end, that her strength would kick in, and that’s closing hard. As it turned out, she ran away from everyone and I think she and Jenny (Barringer) Simpson are the only Americans to ever run under a 9:20 (in the steeplechase).”
“We’re very happy for her.” Coburn previously won the steeple titles in 2011 and 2012; she was injured last year and did not compete.
“With the national championship on the line, I was really hoping to run with the group for the first half (of the race),” Coburn said. “(The strategy) was then to squeeze it down the last three laps, but I broke away a little bit early. When I saw my time, I was a little surprised – I was within two seconds of my PR, which I ran in much cooler conditions.”
Senior Shalaya Kipp closed out her CU career with a seventh place finish in a 9:46.57 time; both she and Coburn were members of the USA steeplechase team at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and, along with Simpson, have helped make Boulder the top destination for those wanting to compete in the event on the collegiate level.
“Shalaya ran pretty well given the circumstances,” Wetmore said. “She’s just a little flat right now, so I’m not sure we had the right recipe for her this spring. But while we’re not thrilled with the overall season for her, she still had some fine moments and she beat some pretty good people here, so we’re happy with the result today.”
Another former Buff, Sara Vaughn, a 2008 graduate, was 12th in 9:56.36.
Senior Emily Hunsucker ended her CU career with a 13th place finish in the hammer throw; the top eight advanced to the final round of three additional throws. The Arvada, Colo., product (Pomona High) fouled on her first attempt but came back with a throw of 200 feet, 4 inches, that had her fifth at one point in her flight; but she fouled on her third try and then had to watch as seven of the nine throwers in the second flight recorded longer throws than the first flight winner, eliminating her from advancing.
“There’s a big difference between the NCAA hammer and the USA hammer,” Wetmore noted. “She was really stepping into a whole different circle, literally and figuratively. I thought she did well in those circumstances, and got her feet wet against this kind of competition. I hope she can find a way to keep competing.”
The championships conclude Sunday; three CU alums will be competing. Assistant coach Billy Nelson (’08 grad) along with ’13 CU graduate Aric Van Halen are in the final of the men’s steeplechase (2:52 p.m. MDT), with Simpson, a CU volunteer coach and ’08 graduate, in the 1,500-meter final at 3:39 p.m.