LONDON (Reuters) – Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs stunned the World Championships by winning gold and silver in a dramatic women’s 3,000 meters steeplechase final on Friday, the first Americans to get medals in the event.
The duo were not counted among the outright favorites heading to London, although Coburn did win bronze at the Olympics last year.
The woman who beat her to gold in Rio was world record holder Ruth Jebet of Bahrain, who led at the 1000m and 2000m splits. But going into the final lap, Jebet faded and was overtaken by the Americans and Kenyans Hyvin Jepkemoi and Beatrice Chepkoech.
The leading pack was heavily congested heading into the last 200 meters.
But Coburn launched herself over the final water jump in a daring move that led to her surging down the final straight to win in a Championship record time of 9 minutes 2.58 seconds.
“Oh my goodness, what a race to be part of,” she said. “I have memories from 2015 and 2016 where I went too early for the last push, so I just had to keep trusting myself and be patient, and it looks like it paid off.
“I never expected to win in that time but I kept pressing. It is pretty amazing to get a championship record.
“I just expected the others to finish quickly, so I just kept pushing to make sure I got that gold that I wanted so much.”
She is the first American athlete since Horace Ashenfelter, who won gold at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, to win a global title in the 3,000m steeplechase.
Frerichs finished in 9:03.77 to complete a brilliant one-two for the U.S. and smash her own personal best by 16 seconds. Both women’s times were well under the American national record, set by Coburn at the Olympics last year.
“I would never have believed this could happen. Maybe fifth or sixth, but silver? Wow, I am shocked. This is an absolute dream,” Frerichs said.
“I felt like the crowd gave me a lot of energy and lifted me to my greatest ever performance.”
Team USA will go home feeling like they have upset the 3,000m steeplechase status quo, with Coburn and Frerich’s medals adding to Evan Jager’s landmark bronze in the men’s event on Tuesday.
That fact was not unnoticed by Jepkemoi, the 2015 champion, who claimed the bronze medal in an event usually dominated by Africans.
“I am very happy to win the bronze medal. The Americans went very fast, as you saw with the championship record. I did all I could to win that race but they were stronger,” she said.
Jepkemoi finished ahead of Chepkoech who recovered impressively from a bizarre mishap on the first lap when she forgot to take the water jump and had to go back round to complete it before catching up with the field.