TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Colleen Quigley is packing her bags for Rio de Janeiro.
Turning in a lifetime-best performance in just her third race after a 10-month injury hiatus, the 2015 Florida State graduate is heading to the Olympic Games after placing third in the 3000-meter steeplechase at the US Olympic Trials Thursday night at Historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
Biding her time in the middle of the pack through the first half of the race, Quigley was at her best when it mattered most, climbing from sixth to third with a lap to go. Mounting a final surge over the final 200 meters, Quigley and fellow Missouri native Courtney Frerichs came racing past Stephanie Garcia over the final hurdle, chasing winner Emma Coburn to the finish line.
“Simply incredible race for Colleen,” said FSU coach Bob Braman. “I don’t know how she was able to run that fast after months of injuries, but that shows you just how tough she is. I couldn’t be happier for her.”
Quigley’s time of 9:21. 29 – 10th-fastest time in the world this year – was good for bronze behind Frerichs (9:20.92) and Coburn (9:17.48) in arguably the most competitive steeplechase final in US Olympic Trials history.
“I just prayed these legs would just hold on,” Quigley said moments after securing her first Olympic appearance in her first US Trials appearance.
Quigley’s legs were up to the challenge, though she had every reason to wonder how they would. It was just her second steeplechase race since placing 12th at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China on August 26 of last year.
With hamstring and hip injuries forcing Quigley to shut down her training – she is now based in Portland, Ore. and runs for the Nike-sponsored Bowerman Track Club – she was out of commission until late April. With her World Championships performance time qualifying her for the US Trials, Quigley was putting in time cross training until rejoining her teammates at altitude camp. Her first race of 2016 was a 1500 in Portland on June 23 (4:12.21). Her second race – and first steeplechase – was in Monday’s preliminary round of the Trials (9:37.03).
After qualifying comfortably for the final, she was facing the prospect of needing a new personal best and wins over at least four of the fields’ favorites – Coburn, Frerichs, Garcia, World No. 8 Leah O’Connor and 2012 Olympians Shalaya Kipp and Bridget Franek – to make the US Olympic team on Thursday.
With the same grit, determination and racing acumen on display during her 2015 NCAA title and USA Championships performances last summer, Quigley came through, closing in 3:36 over the final 1200 meters.
FSU volunteer coach Terry Long, who was a guiding force during her 2015 senior season, was on hand to take in the performance.
“It’s difficult for words to express,” said Long, FSU’s head coach from 1989-2003, who has mentored well over a dozen Olympians in his career. “That’s one of the finest competitive efforts I have ever seen. There are very few people who are good enough and tough enough to pull off that feat. First steeplechase of the year in the prelims [and] the second race is an all-time best time and you make the Olympic team. She is truly a very special person.”
Three others with Florida State ties kept their Olympic hopes alive on Thursday as 2008 bronze medalist Walter Dix and 2015 Seminole teammates Trentavis Friday and Kendal Williams advanced to the semifinals of the 200-meter dash.
All three were in the first of six heats, with Williams – who is now at Georgia – qualifying automatically with a second-place finish (20.11). Dix, the most decorated sprinter in Seminole history, advanced on time with the sixth-fastest mark of the evening (20.23). Friday, who turned pro after his freshman season, also moved on to Friday’s semifinal on time (20.33).
Quigley’s qualification assures that a record number of Seminoles – likely as many as 18 – will be competing at the Olympic Games. The previous high was 13, set at the 2008 Games. The final list of qualifiers will be announced July 11.