RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Performing at your best in championship events is the objective of every track & field athlete, and there are no championships bigger than an Olympic Games final. Colleen Quigley was up to the moment in Monday’s 3000-meter steeplechase final, capping her Olympic debut with a lifetime-best 9:21.10 to place eighth in the field of 18 of the world’s best. The 23-year-old St. Louis, Mo. native and 2015 Florida State graduate methodically worked in a pack behind a breakaway foursome and used her late speed to lead a big day by a trio of Team USA runners.
While gold and silver went to Bahrain’s Ruth Chebet (8:59.75) and Kenya’s Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi (9:07.12), Emma Coburn set the American record (9:07.63) for the bronze medal, the first for the USA in the event.
Quigley, whose previous best time (8:21.29) came in her third-place finish at the US Trials, got the better of her other teammate Courtney Frerichs (9:22.87) who finished 11th.
“I have mixed feelings,” Quigley said, after recovering from the grueling final. “On the one hand, I thought that if everything went well I could be in the top six, but on the other hand, I’m eighth in the world in my first Olympics, and I am so proud of an eighth place finish for my first time here. So I am walking away satisfied.”
Quigley had every reason to bask in that feeling of satisfaction. Not only did she improve on her 12th-place finish at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Tokyo, which came on the heels of her NCAA title with the Seminoles, but it also followed an injury-forced 10-month absence from racing.
“What a battler Colleen is,” Florida State coach Bob Braman said. “Eighth-best in the World and runs a lifetime-best on the biggest stage. Imagine where Colleen can get to if she can stay healthy. I’m really excited for Quigs!”
It’s hard not to imagine what the future holds for Quigley, who admittedly was caught off guard a bit by the way the final played out.
“A lot of international races, and races in general, are about staying calm no matter what happens,” Quigley said. “Today was just kind of a weird race, it went out really slow and then picked up really quick and I really didn’t plan for that. I thought it was just going to be hot from the gun. So that kind of threw me off. Just learning that when stuff like that happens you just have to stay calm.”
For those who didn’t already know, Quigley is going to be a big part of the United States’ rapidly improving pool of talent in the steeplechase, led by Coburn, a three-time NCAA champion, and Frerichs, who won the 2016 collegiate title.
“I was in my own pit of pain when I was laying on the track after [the race], then looking at the scoreboard I saw the American flag next to the [number] three and I just forgot about the pain and felt really happy that it happened for an American,” Quigley said of Coburn’s bronze. “She really deserves it. That was really a silver lining, or a bronze lining.
“That was amazing…Seeing the way the Americans have progressed in the steeple field, it hasn’t been around for forever, but the last two years in a row we’ve had Americans in the final. I feel like we are getting better and better.”
While Quigley handled matters for the Seminole alumni, returning senior Kellion Knibb was not as fortunate. Torrential rains pushed back the start of Group B qualifying in the women’s discus and Knibb, the Jamaican national record holder and NCAA runner-up this past spring, fouled on all three of her attempts and did not advance.
“That was a tough one,” said FSU throws coach Dorian Scott, who was on hand at Olympic Stadium. “She went all out. She will learn from it. I bombed out of my first Olympics, too, and I was three years out of school at the time. She’ll be fine.”
Worth noting, Scott rebounded from his performance in the shot put at the 2008 Games to become Jamaica’s first finalist at London in 2012.
“She’s had an amazing year – NCAA runner-up and an Olympic berth,” Braman said. “The rain made it tough to be aggressive and that’s been the key to Kellion’s best meets.”
Tuesday will feature three more Seminoles in action, including the 100-meter hurdles duo of Meme Jean (Haiti) and school record-holder Anne Zagre (Belgium), who have drawn lanes 3 and 8, respectively, in the first of six heats at 10:05 a.m.
The top three in each heat, plus the next six fastest times advance to Wednesday’s semifinals.
Susan Kuijken will make her second appearance of the Games representing the Netherlands. Following a 14th-place finish in Friday’s 10,000-meter final, Kuijken will compete in the first heat of the 5,000-meter preliminaries at 8:30 a.m.
The top five from each of two heats, plus the next five fastest times, advance to Friday’s final.