Coburn Wins Steeple, Manzano Sprints To 1,500 Title At U.S. Nationals

Emma Coburn won her third U.S. title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase on Saturday in Sacramento. (This photo is from her prelim race on Friday.) Photo: PhotoRun.net

Coburn won her third U.S. title in a national championship meet record of 9:19.72.

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

SACRAMENTO—Blistering hot temperatures here at Hornet Stadium were no match for Emma Coburn, as the 23-year-old sped her way to a third national title in the 3,000m steeplechase. Establishing a new meet record of 9:19.72, Coburn solidified her spot as America’s best steeplechaser with a convincing, 50-meter win.

As temperatures hovered around 90 degrees, Coburn took to the track determined to claim her third national crown in four years. Racing a step behind fellow Team New Balance athletes Nicole Bush and Stephanie Garcia in the opening laps, Coburn waited patiently before it was time to go.

“I’m not always very comfortable running in the heat, so my plan going into the race was to be pretty conservative and to run with the group for at least the first half,” said Coburn. “But with three and a half laps to go I felt great off the water jump. Right at three and a half laps to go I kind of took over.”

Propelling herself clear of the water pit, Coburn threw in an aggressive surge that instantly broke up the field.

Completing her sixth circuit of the track in 73.7 seconds, Coburn had edged away from Ashley Higginson and Garcia, both of whom tried valiantly to match Coburn’s intensity.

Sensing her challengers fading behind, Coburn threw in successive knockout laps of 72.9 and 71.6 to finish off the race, creating a gap of about half a straightaway in the process. Cruising down the homestretch, she’d finish in a new meet record of 9:19.72, shattering Anna Willard’s 2008 best of 9:27.59. It was the fourth-fastest time ever for an American.

“When I saw my time at the end I was really surprised because my last 400 I wasn’t even really pressing that hard,” said Coburn, who was raised in Crested Butte, Colo. “I felt really relaxed and was pleasantly surprised with the time.”

As is her style, Coburn looked completely in control of her effort throughout the contest, her smooth stride fluent over each barrier and water jump.

Coburn believes breaking 9:20 in today’s heat is an indicator of good things to come. She’ll race next at the IAAF Diamond League in Paris on July 5, and hopes to come closer –perhaps eclipse– Boulder training partner Jenny Simpson’s 2009 American record of 9:12.50.

“I’m not great in the heat so I think running 9:19 here shows that I’m in much better shape than when I ran 9:19 in Shanghai [onMay 18],” she said. “I don’t really know what to expect from this season. I just hope to continue to PR and be competitive on the world stage.”

Higginson, representing Saucony and the New Jersey/New York Track Club, came across the line second in a personal best of 9:27.59. Garcia was third in 9:32.76.

With Higginson’s time, all three of the podium finishers have dipped under the 9:30 barrier this year (Garcia ran 9:28.96 at the adidas Grand Prix on June 14).

“It’s exciting that the whole field is kind of rising to the occasion and getting a little bit more competitive. I’m excited about it,” said Coburn.

Higginson credited Coburn for the fast times seen in the discipline recently.

“The steeple is so exciting to watch this year and I’m glad I was a part of it. It’s cool we are getting respect, and hats off to Emma for creating that respect and having us so motivated to try and clip her heals as long as we can. She’s world class,” said Higginson. “She’s just so cool and composed. It’s great.”

Manzano Sprints To Victory

In the men’s 1,500m final, Leo Manzano showed the flat-out sprinting speed that brought him an Olympic silver medal in 2012, winning his second outdoor national 1500m title in 3:38.63.

Manzano, 29, from Austin, Texas, spent most of the race back in the pack. He said later that he hadn’t planned to run that way.

“The overall strategy was to be somewhere in the front. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pan out,” Manzano told the media, looking slightly embarrassed.

With about 300 meters to go and the pace heating up, Manzano found himself well behind leaders Pat Casey, Lopez Lomong and Will Leer. He was nervous, but didn’t panic.

“I was a little bit worried after 800 meters,” Manzano admitted. He had planned to be “a little further ahead,” he said. “Once I saw that nothing was literally opening up, I started to get a little nervous.”

Deftly moving through the field, Manzano hit his top gear through the turn. He ripped down the homestretch at Hornet Stadium in the blazing sun, completing a 52.7 second final lap. He raised his right index finger as he broke the tape.

“You know, it’s a blessing,” Manzano said of his victory. “As you guys know, I spent a year and a half without a sponsor. Probably, the roughest year.”

Casey, who had the lead coming out of the final bend, was a clear second in 3:38.94. Lomong was just able to hold off Will Leer to take third. Both men were timed in 3:39.11, but officials said Lomong had a 6/1000ths of a second advantage over Leer at the tape.

With his victory here today, Manzano now has five national titles: 1,500m indoors and outdoors twice, and the road mile in 2014.

Middle-distance action in Sacramento continues tomorrow on the fifth and final day of these championships with 800m finals for both men and women, 1,500m final for women, and the 3,000m steeplechase final for men.

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