LONDON — Former University of New Mexico cross-country and track and field star Courtney Frerichs was part of the most jaw-dropping result in a week of upsets at the Olympic Stadium came in the women’s steeplechase, where the United States clinched an unlikely 1-2 finish at the expense of the Kenyans.
Emma Coburn took the lead for good at the final water jump and kicked for home to finish in a championship record of 9 minutes, 2.58 seconds.
“Oh my goodness, what a race to be part of,” Coburn said. “I never expected to win in that time but I kept pressing. It is pretty amazing to get a championship record.”
Frerichs finished second by outkicking defending champion Hyvin Jepkemoi of Kenya in a sprint for silver. Her time of 9:03.77 set a new personal best by 16 seconds, ranks her seventh all-time in women’s steeplechase
“I would never have believed this could happen,” Frerichs said.
Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya, the third best performer this year, was running in the lead at the start when she missed the turn for the water jump on the inside of the track and had to go back. She made a strong comeback but faded in the remarkable last lap.
Frerichs and Coburn were the first two U.S. women to ever earn a medal in the event at the world championships.
“My coach (Jerry Schumacher) told me ‘just go for it,'” Frerichs said during a postrace interview, about going for the lead on the bell lap. “He told me Emma races smart and I felt very comfortable following her. Her form is great and there was an extreme level of comfort.”
As the race progressed through one kilometer, world record holder and 2016 Olympic champion Ruth Jebet of Bahrain began to increase the pace, with Frerichs remaining in contention.
At the bell lap, Jebet fell off the lead, allowing Frerichs to move up on the outside and into second place.
After coming to New Mexico in 2015 as a transfer, Frerichs helped the Lobos to the 2015 NCAA team championship in cross country before claiming the NCAA steeplechase record at the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore..
Subsequently, Frerichs placed second in the event at the 2016 US Olympic Team Trials before placing 11th in the finals of the event at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
This year, Frerichs set a then-personal record of 9:19.09 in May before claiming runner-up honors in the event at the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships to secure her spot in London.
From Justin Gatlin beating Usain Bolt in the 100 on the opening weekend to Ramil Guliyev of Turkey winning the 200 ahead of Wayde van Niekerk, the crowd at the championships has been stunned plenty of times.
And another crazy incident came Friday in the long jump. Ivana Spanovic seemed to have produced a medal-winning leap on her final attempt, but she was given a much shorter mark — seemingly because the number bib on her back dragged into the sand and likely cost her precious centimeters.
Without that jump, Brittney Reese added a world title to the Olympic gold she won in the same stadium five years ago. The American hadn’t won a major title since 2013, but her jump of 7.02 meters was good enough for her fourth world title.
Darya Klishina of Russia, competing as a neutral athlete because of her country’s doping suspension, took silver with a jump of 7.00 meters, and defending champion Tianna Bartoletta added yet another American medal with bronze.
Dafne Schippers restored some normalcy Friday in the women’s 200, dipping at the line just ahead of Marie-Josee Ta Lou in another extremely close race to defend her title in 20.05 seconds.
In the men’s hammer throw, Poland got another gold when Pawel Fajdek won his third straight title. Valeriy Pronkin of Russia, also competing as a neutral athlete, took silver ahead of Wojciech Nowicki of Poland.
Going into the closing weekend, the United States has eight gold medals. Kenya is second with three. Overall, the Americans have 23 medals, 15 more than second-place Kenya.
Saturday, La Cueva graduate and former Lobo Jarrin Solomon competes in the 4×400 heats for Trinidad & Tobago. The finals in that event are at 2:15 MT Sunday, wrapping up the world championships.