By: Will Blase
You can tell when a runner has heart. We like to believe we all do, and it’s hard to imagine elite runners not having heart. But when you see a runner with heart, you instinctively watch them as they blaze against surging lanes, igniting the crowd and burning bright. A declaration of endurance.
While nobody doubted that Courtney Frerichs would advance to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics Women’s Steeplechase final, she was never a favorite to medal. Oh, how wrong we all were.
Frerichs took the Steeplechase final by the reins and gained absolute control of the race. We watched in awe as she took the lead and increased the distance between her and her competitors. Where was Coburn? How is she battling the heat? It didn’t matter. Frerichs was on fire.
Image Credit: Andrew Nelles, Andrew Nelles-USA TODAY Sports
Frerich’s guts paid off, earning her the silver medal and the respect of the world. But it wasn’t just a grand display of physical endurance. I’d argue that it was a stunning display of mental endurance too.
Emma Coburn is an incredible athlete. She’s put in the work, put in the pain and shown just how capable of a steepler she is. She’s honest on the track and off the track. Now, I’m not taking any shots at Coburn, but I think it’s safe to say that Coburn has remained in the limelight, taking many eyes away from Frerichs. As an amateur track and field fan, everything I see is “Coburn this, and Coburn that.” And for damn good reason. The American steeplers went 1-2 at the 2017 World Championships, defying the odds and showing the world just how strong they are. And they continued to battle it out, season after season, until they made the 2021 Olympic final. But this time, the unthinkable happened. Coburn tripped and Frerichs medaled.
Frerichs has shown us her ability to stay level-headed all that time in Coburn’s “shadow.” On one hand, it’s a driving (friendly) rivalry that challenges Frerichs to outperform her competitor. On the other hand, we’ve watched as the media has painted Coburn to be the best American steepler ever. Coburn’s performances certainly speak for themselves, but it turns out Frerichs was never really in Coburn’s shadow. She was running in stride with Coburn, pace for pace, over the years. All it took was one gutsy performance to break free from that shadow and show the world her strength and endurance. One electric display of endurance. And Coburn? The endurance to get back up. The endurance to finish the race. That’s what it’s all about.
Image Credit: Matthew Quine | Twitter/Instagram - @matthewquine
In a field of black, white, blue and red, only one runner wore yellow at the 2021 Memorial Van Damme Diamond League Men’s 1500m in Brussels-- Stewart McSweyn. And what did that yellow kit do? McSweyn floated like a butterfly and stung the competition, surging to a win and topping off a phenomenal season.
He ran a 3:48.37 mile in Oslo, setting a new Oceania record. He placed seventh in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics Men’s 1500m final, running 3:31.91, just two seconds shy of his PB when he became the first Australian to dip under 3:30 in a 1500m race back in July. He came in second at the 2021 Prefontaine Classic Men’s Bowerman Mile, holding the lead until the last 200m, falling only to 2021 Olympic gold medalist Jakob Ingebrigtsen.
You can’t deny it. Stewart McSweyn runs an honest race each time he toes the line. And it’s this honesty that is so inspiring. McSweyn runs with integrity. As we all know, “to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift,” and Pre would be damn proud watching Stewy rip it on the track. His season? Nothing but the pinnacle of endurance in my eyes.
And these are just two instances of endurance. Elite athletes grin-and-bear it every single day, enduring difficult training blocks, negative press, mental balance, injury and fatigue. Hell, if you make it to the finish line, you’re showing that you’ve got the magic. So here’s to endurance and everything it does to keep us honest, on the good days and the bad. Here’s to running.
I know I missed some pretty damn honest performances. Feel free to clown me in the comments below with your favorite show of endurance. Let us know which races we should revisit and have yourself a day.