Mike Sandrock
Mike Sandrock

Heading into the bell lap of the 2017 IAAF World Championship steeplechase final, Emma Coburn was in the middle of the lead pack of five. Over the first of the five barriers on the final lap, Coburn, a former University of Colorado NCAA champ, dropped back to fifth, and it looked as if she would be battling for an admirable bronze medal, same as she earned in last summer's Olympic Games in Rio.

But this was a stronger and more confident Coburn, and down the backstraight she moved up closer to the leaders. She entered the final turn in third. Then, in a brilliant display of racing strategy and guts, Coburn took the inside lane over the penultimate barrier and came out of the turn in the lead. She then sprinted down the home stretch, lightly hurdled the final barrier and powered home with arms upraised to earn the World Championship gold medal

Coburn finished in 9 minutes, 2.58 seconds, a new American record and the fastest ever at World Championship. For her win, Coburn was named 2017 Jackie Joyner-Kersee Athlete of the Year by USATF, the governing board of track and field in the United States. Her gold medal was the major highlight of the year for the local running scene; coupled with teammate Jenny Simpson's World Championship 1500 meter silver medal, clinched with another superb final 400 meters, it put Boulder atop the track world.

If Wonder Woman was a track athlete, she would likely look like Coburn and Simpson on the last laps of their World Championship runs — lithe, strong, confident. Inspirations for the tens of thousands of young girls who follow them on social media, and also for the rest of us.


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There were many other local running highlights, from prep stars to ultramarathon winners. One came in April at the London Marathon, with Laura Thweatt's 2 hour, 25 minute, 38 second sixth-place finish. That puts Thweatt, another former University of Colorado runner, in the top-10 on the all-time U.S. list.

One of Boulder's all-time great, Colleen De Reuck, continues to build on one of the best running careers ever. The four-time Olympian, now head coach of Boulder Striders working out of Colorado Athlete Club, won her age group (50-54) at the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship. She followed that with the masters win at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa, one of the world's oldest and most competitive ultramarathons.

"I am in a new phase of my life," explained De Reuck. "Keeping fit and enjoying new and different challenges."

Enjoying the challenge of finishing a 10K, many for the first time, is what more than 45,000 runners and walkers did at the 39th annual Bolder Boulder, which continues to inspire thousands every Memorial Day in our springtime rite of passage. Race director Cliff Bosley and elite athlete coordinator Don Janicki put together another deep pro field, with Cuba fielding a team for the first time in any U.S. race, and Team China returning. Bosley continues handing out large sums of prize money, with this year's purse totaling $177,500. Folsom Field was packed once again to watch the moving Memorial Day celebration — the largest in the country — and to see two exciting races professional races, both decided in the final strides

On Labor Day, Bosley launched the Fortitude 10K in Fort Collins, featuring another innovation, this time the USA Pro Race Chase, with staggered starts based on past performances. Boulder's Maggie Callahan took the women's race.

The ultra scene saw two local women score big wins; Cat Bradley was first at the Western States Endurance Run and Clare Gallagher won the CCC 101K in Chamonix France, named because it starts in Courmayeur, Italy, goes through Champex Lac, Switzerland, and finishes in Chamonix, France.

Up at CU, Heather Burroughs and Mark Wetmore continue producing top runners, headlined by sophomore Dani Jones, who won the NCAA indoor 3K champions and anchored the Distance Medley Relay that won the national title. And Madie Boreman broke Jenny Barringer's CU freshman school record for the steeplechase in placing second at NCAAs, setting the U.S. junior national record.

In the fall, Jones won the Pac 12 cross country title in a final sprint, leading the Buffs to their third-straight conference crown. And at NCAAs, the women were third, the first "American" team you could say, as the first and second place teams, New Mexico and San Francisco, both scored entirely international runners. For the men, Zach Perrin, Joe Klecker and John Dressel went 1-2-3 in the Pac 12 5000 meters; Nick Harris won the 800 meters, and Eduardo Herrera emerged as one of the best freshman in the nation.

Contact Mike Sandrock at sandrockm@gmail.com.