The Michigan State alum captured her first national crown in hot conditions.
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DES MOINES, IOWA — Four years after breaking her foot because an official set a barrier at the wrong height, Nicole Bush won her first national 3,000m steeplechase title at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships on Saturday, timing 9:44.53 in extremely hot conditions. Bush led wire to wire, qualifying for her first IAAF World Outdoor Championships team.
Temperatures read 91-degrees as the starter’s pistol was pointed skyward, making the women’s 3,000m steeplechase the most grueling event on Saturday’s program. From the gun, Bush took over the pacing duties, finding her groove in front of the 14-person field.
“The plan was to just go out and aggressively hurdle cleanly for the first 1,500m,” said the Michigan State University alum. “I just happened to be in the lead and I kind of just wanted to trust my instincts and trust how I felt. I guess it worked out.”
Lap-by-lap, Bush cleared the barriers while a group of contenders jockeyed for second and third. Even with the lead, Bush’s mind was still on those chasing, including Olympians Bridget Franek and Shalaya Kipp, Team USA Minnesota’s Jamie Cheever, and New Jersey-New York Track Club’s Ashley Higginson. Bush’s eyes would often wander to the scoreboard and her ears were tuned to the sounds of the water pit, hoping to get a sense of where her competitors stood.
“At some point I was just like, ‘stop looking and stop trying to listen for them,’” said Bush, who trains with the Furman Elite group in South Carolina.
With one circuit of the Drake Stadium blue track remaining, Bush had a determined look on her sweat-covered face. Higginson, Cheever, and Franek seemed to be closing.
As the bell rang, though, Franek simply fell apart, succumbing to the nauseating heat. Her form disintegrating and visibly not her usual self, the Oregon Track Club Elite member did anything she could to prevent herself from dropping to the track. Ultimately, she would fade all the way back to 12th.
“I can’t blame it on the weather, can’t blame it on my training,” said Franek, visibly dejected. “Everything just got hard.”
Caught up in the battle for third, Kipp was charging. Higginson remained clearly in second, but the battle for the third and final podium spot was between Cheever and Kipp. With 200 meters remaining, the 22 year-old NCAA champion from University of Colorado made a move that Cheever simply couldn’t answer.
“I was really surprised to find myself in third today,” said Kipp, sporting her Colorado vest.
Back at the front, Bush broke the tape first, while Higginson –who is coached by Frank Gagliano– took second. Their times were 9:44.53 and 9:46.25, respectively.
The win was extra special for Bush, who has been dealt many setbacks over the last five years. In 2008, Bush finished a heartbreaking fourth at the Olympic Trials, missing an Olympic birth by just over seven seconds.
Then a year later at the USA National Championships in Eugene, Ore., meet officials mistakenly left steeplechase barriers at the wrong height. Clipping the water barrier and falling to the track, Bush was able to get up and finish sixth in her heat with an avulsion fracture of the cuboid bone in her right foot, according to the Eugene Register-Guard.
“I don’t even need to think about that anymore,” said Bush, signalling that her new national title makes up for all the heartache.
Runner-up Higginson was emotional with her second place finish. Having already achieved the IAAF World Championships “B” standard, the 24-year-old will travel to Moscow as part of her first senior national team.
“I am so excited,” said Higginson, who just completed her first year of law school at Rutgers University. “It’s pretty awesome.”
Crediting her achievement to coach Gagliano, Higginson broke down.
“I run for him every time,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “Our team’s energy is unbelievable.
“It’s so awesome I just have goosebumps,” she continued.
Because Bush had achieved the IAAF World Championships “A” standard, and Higginson the “B,” Kipp is the only one of the group who needs to record a mark under 9:43.00, which would give her the second “A” and complete the team. Only two A’s and one B are allowed to travel to Moscow. If Kipp does not run an “A” time before July 20, then Cheever will take over the final qualifying spot, as she has already run under 9:43.00.
“It’s a hard situation ’cause I have to hope Shalaya doesn’t make the standard, which is mean-spirited,” said Cheever. “But I really hope I get to go to Worlds.”