Emma Coburn wins the 3000m steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)
Emma Coburn, Olympic bronze medallist in the women, earned the first ever global women’s 3000m steeplechase title for the United States in a tumultuous and historic final here which also saw her compatriot Courtney Frerichs finish as a stunned silver medallist ahead of Kenya’s defending champion Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi.
But the final will be remembered down the years for the extraordinary occurrence as the field approached the water jump for the first time and the early leader Beatrice Chepkoech, perhaps receiving a nudge in the back, ran wide, before doubling back, aghast, to clear the barrier and - extraordinarily – moving back to the leading bunch, eventually finishing just one place outside the medals. Considering the Kenyan had run around 3030 metres at least, it was quite an effort.
As the field approached the water jump for the second time several runners hit the deck, although all picked themselves up and carried on. The drama continued all the way to the line.
Reaching the water jump for the last time, the two Americans went either side of the defending champion and emerged in the two leading places, with Coburn driving through on the inside and Frerichs following for all she was worth.
Coburn’s winning time of 9:02.58 was a Championship record. Frerichs, who collapsed to the track with her compatriot in the wake of a totally unexpected performance, ran a personal best of 9:03.77, with Jepkemoi clocking 9:04.03.
Bahrain’s Olympic champion and world record holder Ruth Jebet appeared to be twisting the screw on the field over the final few laps, but after leading through the bell, she was the first of the five remaining medal contenders to be dropped in the back straight, finishing in 9:13.96, one place behind Chepkoech, who clocked 9:10.45.
Kenya’s prodigious 18-year-old Celliphine Chespol, who set the second best ever time of 8:58.78 in Eugene earlier this year, was dropped from the leading group with two laps remaining, eventually taking sixth place in 9:15.04.
“I’m so grateful to the support from all the people here,” said Coburn in the immediate aftermath of her bold run. “It felt almost like I was a British athlete, I felt so much energy. This is better than I could ever have imagined.”
Frerichs was still having trouble processing what she had just achieved. “Seeing Emma sprint down the home straight got me going for the silver rather than the bronze,” she said. “I was just hoping to finish in the top five or six.”
Kiyeng added: "I am very happy to win the bronze medal. The Americans went very fast, as you saw with the championship record. I did all I could to win that race but they were stronger.
"I tried to stay at the front but they had too much over the last water jump. They had a good race. I tried to react but I could not hang on but I'm pleased to medal."
At the finish line the two US athletes had clung briefly to each other after collapsing to the track. Soon they were joined by other exhausted bodies in what looked more like the finish of a men’s decathlon. It was a surprising, punishing, memorable contest.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF