Battle Mountain graduate Val Constien makes Olympic team
Steeplechase racer finishes third at US trials for Tokyo Games
People fall down in a steeplechase.
Those were the words of Battle Mountain High School graduate Val Constien before competing in the Olympic Trials in the women’s 3000 meter steeplechase on Thursday.
The race had two clear favorites for the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in steeplechase star Emma Coburn, the American record holder, and the No. 2 U.S. woman Courtney Frerichs. But the third spot on the U.S. Olympic Team didn’t necessarily have a favorite headed into Thursday.
Constien had recently run a time of 9 minutes, 25 seconds, and said she believed she could take 5 seconds off that time for the Olympic qualifier, which she assumed, correctly, would be good enough for third at the U.S. trials.
In the end, Constien ran a 9:18, finishing 5 seconds ahead of fourth-place finisher Courtney Wayment.
Support Local Journalism
“It’s unbelievable,” she told the crowd in the post race interview from the stadium in Eugene, Oregon. “A couple weeks ago I woke up and said huh, I might be able to do it. So it’s really cool to see it happen. I’m really tired, though.”
With 800 meters remaining in the 3,000 meter contest, you may not have guessed the winner would be Constien. But anything can happen in a steeplechase.
A lead pack of runners was beginning to distance itself from another pack of runners a few meters behind as the field had two laps to go in the seven-and-a-half lap race.
Leah Falland was in the lead pack with Coburn and Frerichs, Constien and Wayment were in the group which was a few meters behind.
In a flat race, which runners call “two dimensional,” the result may have been a forgone conclusion at that point.
But steeplechase is a three-dimensional race, with hurdles which force runners to rise above the track. Unlike a regular hurdles race, steeplechase hurdles are unforgiving. The slightest touch of the tip of the toe can throw off a runner’s stride and cause them to fall.
Falland said that was exactly what happened, describing the moment as “a very quick … nick” to track and field news site FloTrack in a post-race interview.
While it wasn’t visible on the video, “I did feel one of my toes hit it,” Falland said in the interview.
Constien maintained a fast pace as Falland struggled to regain position, and by the final 200 meters, Constien had separated herself from Falland and Wayment with what runners call a final “kick,” approaching a sprint pace as they near the finish line.
Constien maintained her kick through the final 100-meter straightaway for an exclamation point on what was already her best performance in a steeplechase event.
A final time of 9:20 would have been good enough to win, as Constien predicted, but she added another 2 seconds to her personal best just for good measure.
Falland said if there’s one thing she knows about a steeplechase, it’s that the race is unpredictable.
“I had just posted something recently about how difficult it is to make the team and how anything can happen,” Falland said in the FloTrack interview.
It’s a theme Constien repeated in a recent interview with the Citius Mag podcast with Chris Chavez. Commenting on the question of whom is most likely for the team, Constien said there were at least five women with a good shot.
“And it’s a steeplechase, need not forget that,” Constien said. “People fall down. There are barriers. There’s a lot more to this race than just a two-dimentenial 5k or 10k.”
‘A cool field of women’
Constien will now join Coburn and Frerichs on the Olympic team; Constien describes Coburn as an athlete who “paved the way for steeplechase” to become a “cool, sexy event,” and said Frerichs has the foot speed to keep up with Coburn.
Coburn set a new U.S. Olympic trials record with her time of 9:09 on Thursday and holds the U.S. record at 9:02.
Following the race on Thursday, Constien, Coburn and Frerichs interrupted their cool-down laps to give Falland a hug and some encouraging words of support.
“It’s a cool field of women,” Falland said of the qualifying team. “I’m going to be cheering for them in Tokyo.”
Constien now begins the next phase of her life, as an Olympian. In her interview on the Citius Mag podcast, Chavez asked Constien what it would mean to make the team.
“I feel like life-changing doesn’t even begin to describe what you making that Olympic Team would be like,” Chavez said.
Constien agreed, but said most of all, the best part of the Olympics would be participating in another steeplechase race.
“I don’t need that much attention, I don’t want that much attention, I just want to run fast, and I just want to try and beat people, and I love this so much,” she said. “That’s the only reason I’m doing it, there’s no other motive.“