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Steeple People Race on Thursday for the Tokyo Games

On day seven at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field finals, Emma Coburn goes for her third Olympic berth.

For about six years, the U.S. women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase has been predictable: Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, and Colleen Quigley. In that order. Every time.

But at 8:47 p.m. Pacific on Thursday, at least one of those positions will change. Quigley scratched her entry earlier in the week, making an announcement on Instagram about an unidentified injury. 

RELATED: Colleen Quigley Withdraws From the Olympic Trials With Injury

Coburn, 30, is the 2017 world champion and the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist. Frerichs, 28, also a 2016 Olympian (11th), is the American record holder (9:00.85) and 2017 world championships silver medalist. Should everything go smoothly at the Trials, they are sure bets to make Team USA.

But the prelim was a good example of why the steeplechase is so unpredictable—Frerichs fell on Sunday during the second lap of the race. She quickly got back on her feet and rejoined the pack, qualifying easily for the final, but an event that requires racing 3,000 meters at top speed while jumping 28 barriers and seven water jumps, truly anything can happen.

RELATED: How Steeplechaser Courtney Frerichs Keeps Composure at the Olympic Trials

“It really caught me by surprise because it was pretty far outside the water jump and it was obviously not at a barrier,” Frerichs said after the race. “It kinda prompted me to take control of things.”

Coburn, who raced in the second heat, saw what happened and adjusted her plan in an effort to avoid the same fate.

“I saw Courtney go down and I hadn’t decided yet what I was going to do…after seeing that I decided I’m just gonna go from the gun,” Coburn said.

RELATED: Emma Coburn: “I Know I’m Fit, But You Need to Prove It in the Race.”

The tactics on Thursday for the top two might mirror that strategy. To avoid any mishaps, they have the ability to get out ahead and stay there. The real racing might well happen behind them, for the third Olympic spot. Six of the women behind Coburn and Frerichs arrive with the Olympic qualifying standard (9:30 or faster).

Leah Falland looked relaxed and controlled during the preliminary round while finishing in a season’s best time of 9:23.36. Grayson Murphy, the 2019 world mountain running champion, won the first heat in the preliminary round to get her personal record, 9:25.37. And BYU standout Courtney Wayment also clocked a personal best, 9:27.17. Mel Lawrence has had a consistently successful season as well (9:27.34) and will put herself in contention.

Allie Ostrander, who competed at the 2019 world championships, also made the final. She’s dealt with a long string of injuries in the past year and also recently announced that she admitted herself to a partial hospitalization program for eating disorder recovery.

How to watch the 3,000-meter final at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials:

  • Time: 8:47 p.m. Pacific
  • Broadcast: NBCSN

Editor’s Note: This story is part of our 2021 U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials coverage. You can find all of our stories here.