Wetmore-Wednesday Top Races: Coburn Finishes Career With Pair of Titles in 2013
BOULDER – The Colorado track and field and cross country program has a special history, one that began to hit full-stride under head coach Mark Wetmore.
CU track and field and cross country will take a look back at every year under Wetmore and recap the best races and teams of every calendar year.
Without eligibility left for cross country in the fall of 2012, Emma Coburn was able to focus on training for her final track and field season with the Buffs in 2013. In doing so, she captured a pair of NCAA titles, one during the indoor season and one outdoors.
Once you are an Olympian, you are always an Olympian. And being an Olympian as a collegiate athlete can open doors to prestigious meets.
Following the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Emma Coburn was invited to race at the 106th Millrose Games in the New York Road Runners' Wanamaker Mile. The field of 14 included three other Olympians and was set to be Coburn's first race since the Olympics. It was an impressive field and Coburn remembers setting her sights on running a sub 4:30 mile.
"In 2012, I ran 4:08 in the 1,500, so going to Millrose for the mile in 2013, I felt really confident that I could run under 4:30," Coburn said.
And that she did, finishing in 4:29.86 for fourth overall. She was the top finishing collegiate runner and her time, besides being a personal best, was the sixth fastest collegiate mile ever.
"I was proud of that effort, especially since I had raced a few 1,500s before, but to come off an Olympic performance in the steeplechase and to transfer to the mile is not only physically hard, but mentally hard to make the shift," Coburn said.
Associate head coach Heather Burroughs was pleased after her race, saying, "Tonight's mile was Emma's first race since August, but her training has been excellent and uninterrupted. She, coach Wetmore and I were optimistic that she could be competitive and challenge 4:30. It's everything we were hoping for and a perfect start to 2013."
Her mile time was the top time in the country and qualified her for NCAAs in Fayetteville, Ark., March 8-9. Coburn won her prelim in 4:37.47 to advance to the finals. In the finals, she clocked her second-fastest mile time, finishing in 4:29.91 to win her first indoor NCAA title.
The race got out to a quick start and Coburn moved right to the front with Florida State's Amanda Winslow. Coburn never relinquished her lead, leading each of the eight laps.
"My splits from that race are really interesting because I negative split every 200 just a little bit every time," Coburn said. "I was always accelerating. I can look back on that whole race and that is one race that I am very impressed with myself of saying, 'Wow that is pretty good.' I ran 4:29 again, but this time completely alone.
"I came in again with the pressure of being an Olympian, but I felt really prepared in my training and Mark and Heather had said I could do it and I went out and did it. That is a race that winning an NCAA title in something other the steeplechase is, I'm really glad I was able to achieve that and that I have that on my resume. I can look back on that and be pretty proud of it."
Wetmore was also happy with her final indoor collegiate race.
"Her result was the best we could have hoped for," Wetmore said. "She chose to do it in a difficult and courageous way by taking the lead right from the gun. It's very rare to run that way and it's scary. But Emma has learned to run that way in the steeplechase to get out of the collision course. She pulled the field and they started to fall off, although probably not as fast as she would have wanted them to; but she closed well to end her indoor career on a very high note."
ONE FINAL STEEPLE CROWN
With the indoor season complete, Coburn was able to switch her focus back to her main event, the 3,000-meter steeplechase. As an Olympian in the event, there was obvious pressure when she hit the track in the event, but it did not bother her.
"I felt like I had earned some of that pressure in a way," Coburn said. "I had a target on my back because I had proven that I was capable of winning those races and doing well in those races."
The Crested Butte, Colo. native, only raced seven times during the outdoor campaign, and two of those races were the 1,500. Her season debut was in the 1,500 at the Drake Relays on April 26 in Des Moines, Iowa. There she finished eighth overall as the top collegiate, clocking in at 4:11.36 for the season-leading NCAA time.
She did not have much time to celebrate as she had her season steeplechase debut two days later at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational two time zones to the west. The travel did not bother Coburn as the steeplechase queen won the meet in 9:28.26, which at the time was the fastest in the world that season.
"I'm happy that I can run 9:28 two days after my 1,500," Coburn said. "I will have to run faster this year if I want to be confident about making a world team."
Coburn's next race was the Pac-12 Championship where she won her first Pac-12 Steeplechase title, her third conference steeplechase title, in 9:55.67, on May 11, in Los Angeles. It was a pretty conservative run, but Coburn was looking to work a bit on running in traffic since she doesn't get to do that often during the collegiate season."
"This was fun," Coburn said following the race. "I enjoyed staying with the group for the first few laps. Running in traffic is a skill I need to work on. Then at the end I picked it up so I could make sure we won."
Following Pac-12s, she ran her final 1,500 of the season, a 4:06.87, at the Oxy High Performance Meet in Los Angeles and once again was the top collegiate finisher.
Although Coburn owned the top 1,500 and steeplechase times in the NCAA, she obviously was going to race the steeplechase, an event that she had won an NCAA title in during the 2011 season. Coburn was the favorite and had no problems advancing through the NCAA Preliminary Round on May 24 in Austin, Texas, finishing first in 9:55.30. But after that race, things started to change.
"After the regional meet my back started getting a little sore," Coburn said. "I thought it was just a sore glute in the days leading up to the NCAA Championships. I got to Eugene and ran my shakeout run and was in a lot of pain."
Like the soon-to-be-professional she was, Coburn went out and easily won her heat in 9:46.76 to advance to the finals. But the pain had gotten worse. Following the prelim, she got an MRI, which showed a sacral stress reaction; not the kind of news one wants to hear.
Heading into nationals, Coburn had wanted to set the collegiate record, which at the time was 9:25.54 and was held by former Buff Jenny (Barringer) Simpson. The record was very attainable as Coburn had run 9:23.56 in the 2012 Olympic finals.
"After lots of discussions with Mark and Heather, my parents and the CU sports medicine staff, they decided that if I wanted to race, I could race, but it was a risk that was my choice," she said. "So gearing up for the final, I was in a lot of pain. Every time I would do a stride away from the coaches, I would think, there is no way I'm going to do this. Then I would turn and face them and I would be struck with this desire to win and bring another title back to Colorado."
Ultimately Coburn decided to race. And she did win. It was a lot closer than usual, but a win is a win. Coburn crossed the finish in 9:35.38, defeating Florida State's Colleen Quigley (9:38.23). Her time was not the NCAA record, but all things considering, it was pretty amazing that she was able to run the race.
"It was just a relief to be done running that day," she said. "It was a bittersweet ending to my career as a Buff. To walk away with another NCAA title was so fantastic and special, but also being injured and not being able to run the time I wanted was frustrating. And then just being in a lot of pain physically made the experience slightly less beautiful. I don't regret any decision of that race. I'm so glad I raced. I'm so glad I was able to win."
"It was a really successful outdoor track season. I ran really fast in the 1500. I ran some good races and I was really proud of that. And the work we did that season was still really useful for the following season when I was racing as a pro. It just would have been fun to not have a broken back for my last college race."
Coburn would leave CU as a three-time NCAA Champion, earning two of those honors in 2013 and two of those in the steeplechase (2011 and '13). As a native Coloradoan, it had been a dream to run for the Buffaloes and that dream had become a wonderful reality.
"To get to wear the Colorado jersey for five years was something I never really expected from my life, but it was such a dream that I got to do that and be a Buff and represent the school and the team and the coaches for those years," Coburn said.
PAST TOP RACES:
2012 (OLYMPIC EDITION): COBURN & KIPP MAKE OLYMPIC TEAM TOGETHER; REPRESENT CU AND USA AT LONDON GAMES
2012: KIPP CARRIES ON COLORADO LEGARY WITH A PAIR OF STEEPLECHASE TITLES
2011: COBURN WINS FIRST NCAA & U.S. TITLES; BUFFS MAKE STATEMENT WINNING INAUGURAL PAC-12 CROSS COUNTRY TITLES
2010: COBURN AND KIPP BECOME STRONG 1-2 IN THE STEEPLE; DODSON SPRINTS TO A STRONG FINISH
2009: BARRINGER BREAKS 6 COLLEGIATE RECORDS IN FINAL TRACK SEASON (VIDEO)
2008 (OLYMPIC EDITION): BARRINGER AND NELSON TAKE BEIJING OLYMPICS
2008: MEN WIN BIG 12 OUTDOOR TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIP
2007: VAUGHN WINS 3 BIG 12 TITLES; BARRINGER TURNS DISAPPOINTMENT INTO FIRST U.S. CHAMPIONSHIP
2006: BARRINGER'S STEEPLECHASE LEGACY BEGINS; MEN'S XC WINS SECOND NCAA TITLE IN THREE YEARS
2005: METIVIER WINS INDOOR 3K; SLATTERY TAKES 10K TITLE
2004: BUFFS WIN MEN'S AND WOMEN'S NCAA CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
2003: RITZENHEIN RACES TO THE TITLE (FINISH VIDEO)
2002: TORRES CEMENTS LEGACY (VIDEO)
2001: CU MEN CAPTURE FIRST TITLE (VIDEO)
2000: KARA GRGAS-WHEELER NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
1999: JAMES DAVIS 1999 4x400-METER RELAY ALL-AMERICAN
1998: ADAM GOUCHER 1998 CROSS COUNTRY NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP (VIDEO) (5,000) (3,000)
1997: ADAM GOUCHER INDOOR 3,000 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
1996: ALAN CULPEPPER NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP 5,000/ WOMEN'S BIG EIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP