BEIJING, CHINA - With three U.S. runners in both the men’s 3000 steeplechase and the women’s 10,000 meters, there was a good chance that an American would win a medal in a distance race on Monday evening at the World Championships.
But not many expected the one breaking through to medal would be Emily Infeld.
The Bowerman Track Club’s Infeld ran through the finish line to pass a surprised Molly Huddle and claim the bronze in a race that was slow until the last lap. Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya held off Geleta Burka of Ethiopia down the stretch to win in 31:41.31.
A few strides behind the leaders, Huddle appeared to have third place secured and threw her arms up in a victory gesture right before the line. At the same moment Huddle let up just slightly, Infeld moved past her on the inside to snatch the bronze. Infeld finished in 31:43.49, just .09 seconds ahead of Huddle, who said she had no idea that Infeld was there.
Close behind were Sally Kipyego of OTC Elite and Kenya in fifth, and Infeld’s training partner Shalane Flanagan in sixth. The slow pace left no fewer than seven runners in contention on the final lap.
“I was just trying to run through the line and give it everything I had,” Infeld said. “I feel a little guilty because I feel like Molly let up a little and I don’t think she realized how close I was. But I’m really happy and thrilled.”
The surprise medalist said that she never expected she could finish top three here, even though Coach Jerry Schumacher was telling her otherwise. Just making the U.S. team was a bit of a surprise, since eight months ago, Infeld wasn’t even training, due to a serious stress fracture – her second one – which caused her to miss several months of training.
“I’ve had two sacral stress fractures,” the 25 year-old Infeld said. “I was off December, January and a bit of February before I started running again. I feel like I have the best teammates and coaches, and I am so thankful for them and Shalane. I was talking to Shalane in December and crying and telling her I don’t know if I can keep running . . . I had my moments of hating running and hating life and if it wasn’t for Shalane I don’t think I would be here right now.”
During the men’s 3000 steeplechase, which immediately followed the women’s 10K, Infeld and Flanagan stood just off the track near the finish line. Flanagan had her arm wrapped tightly around her training partner’s shoulder, sharing the moment and cheering for Bowerman T.C. teammates Evan Jager and Daniel Huling.
In 2008 Flanagan also won a 10K bronze medal on this track in the Olympics, and, running just a couple of strides behind Infeld, she had a perfect view of the dramatic finish.
“Since (I ran) the Boston Marathon we have done literally everything together so I’m taking a lot of pride in this,” Flanagan said, standing with Infeld after the race.
“I just wanted to remind her that this is a special place for me and I wanted to tell her these moments don’t happen very often . . . even though you’re there, you’re ready and you’re fit, you still have to nail it on the day (of the race). Soak it up because it doesn’t happen very often, especially for a distance runner.”
Infeld’s bronze was just the second medal ever for an American women in the world championship 10K. The 3-4-6 place finish was also the best performance in U.S. team history.
“I’m really proud of everyone’s performance,” Flanagan said. “It was just a phenomenal night for us.”
The evening wasn’t quite as good for Evan Jager. The Portland-based runner was favored to win a medal, and many thought it might be gold. That looked like a solid prediction with a lap to go, as Jager was sitting on the shoulder of the leader, Consesius Kipruto of Kenya. But when the pace picked up with 300 meters to go, the four Kenyans in the race found another gear. Jager didn’t, and ended up sixth in 8:15.47. His teammate Daniel Huling passed Jager in the final strides to finish fifth.
“ Those guys are so freaking tough over the last lap, running extremely fast over barriers,” Jager said about the Kenyans. “It’s definitely different than having a fast last lap in the flat race. It’s just a different element to it. There’s a reason why the Kenyans have won every single steeple World Championships they’ve competed in the last 12-13 years. So it’s really tough. I have to figure out something for myself. I’ll go back to the drawing board.”
Earlier in the session, former Oregon thrower Sam Crouser was eliminated in the preliminary round of the men’s javelin. His best throw of 242-5 came on his third attempt, and left him in 15 th place in his flight. Crouser said he didn’t have his best stuff on this night.
“It’s a blessing just to be here but I was pretty disappointed with the overall finish. I wish I could have started with the last throw and worked my way up. It’s been a long season and I’m feeling it a little bit now in my body, it’s a little bit sore.”
Lacking a qualifying mark that would get him to this meet, Crouser had competed in five meets during July, eventually surpassing the needed mark.
“It’s been an emotional roller-coaster this past month. A crazy ride”
In the women’s 100 meter semis, former Oregon sprinter English Gardner and current Duck Jasmine Todd were both eliminated. Gardner finished sixth in her race in 11.13, while Todd was eighth in her heat in 11.21.
Former Duck Phyllis Francis made it through the first round of the 400 meters with the fourth-fastest time of the day, a season-best 50.52. Francis will run in the semifinals on Tuesday evening.