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Emma Coburn and Athing Mu Feel Confident Heading Into the U.S. Championships Finals

The top three finishers in each event will qualify for the World Championships, which will be held on U.S. soil for the first time at the end of July.

Photo: Getty Images

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Twenty-five women raced on Friday in the 3,000-meter steeplechase prelim at the U.S. Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. Of those, 14 will advance to Sunday’s final, including the three fastest American women ever in the event. 

The American Record holder, Courtney Frerichs, won her heat in 9:31.25, a comfortable 34 seconds slower than her personal best. To win on Sunday, Frerichs will have to beat the reigning champion and second-fastest American ever in the event, Emma Coburn.  

Coburn had a slow start to her season this year. She was disappointed with her eighth place finish at the Prefontaine Classic at the end of May. She ran 9:18.19, roughly three seconds ahead of Frerichs who finished one position behind her.    

At the Pre Classic, I asked Coburn if she was proud to be the top American, if she was happy to beat the current American record holder in the event, and she told me I’d asked the wrong question. She explained she doesn’t view her back and forth with Frerichs as a rivalry and wants to see both of them be the best in the world because she sincerely believes they are. 

They once were. In 2017, Coburn and Frerichs finished first and second at the World Championships in London. The steeplechase traditionally isn’t an event that American women dominate on the world stage, but come the end of July, on American soil, they can try to repeat what they accomplished five years ago. 

Coburn is feeling more confident now than she did at the Pre Classic though, after running the 1500m in 4:04 two weeks ago at the Portland Track Festival. 

“It was proof that my fitness was there,” she said. “It’s nice and pretty to have that. To get race-ready took me a bit longer this year.” 

Looking forward toward Sunday, Frerichs hopes for a fast pace from the gun. “The harder the race, typically the better I run,” she said. “If I’ve learned anything from last year, it’s that I shouldn’t be afraid to take the lead.”

A potential challenger to Frerichs’s and Coburn’s steeplechase supremacy over the past few years is the newcomer on the scene: 23-year-old Courtney Wayment. Competing for BYU, Wayment was the NCAA champion this year in the fastest time ever run in the event, 9:16.00. Just this week she turned pro for On Running. 

“I’m gonna give the best that I can do, whatever that looks like,” she said. “I think if I can do that, then there’s good things in my future.”  

Another Must-Watch Event: The Women’s 800m

It’s another loaded event. Sunday’s final will feature the reigning Olympic champion, Athing Mu, the reigning World Champion, Ajee’ Wilson, and Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist, Raevyn Rogers

In the first heat of the 800m semi-finals on Friday, Wilson edged out Rogers, 2:00.81 to 2:01.15. The NCAA champion this year, Kristie Schoffield from Boise State, also advanced out of that heat to Sunday’s final. 

“It’s anybody’s day,” Rogers said. “Anything can happen in the final. Today I didn’t have to fight fight, and that’s what you want.” 

Mu won the second heat in 1:57.55. Among American women, Mu has run the fastest time this year: She ran 1:57.01 in Rome two weeks ago. 

The 800s are like the sprint events: in three rounds. You can’t get to Sunday’s final without going through Thursday and Friday. Mu said the rounds don’t stress her out anymore though. “I’m trying to be real chill through these races and just do what I came here to do.” She’s here with her college teammates. All of her downtime feels comfortable. She’s having crepes for breakfast every morning. 

When asked about her race plan on Sunday, Mu didn’t say anything unexpected: “I just want to continue to win. I’m not gonna switch anything up.” 

You can watch the women’s 800 on Sunday, June 26 at 1:54 p.m. PST on USATF.TV or CNBC. The women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase will begin at 2:23 p.m. PST on the same channels.

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