Skip to content
Emma Coburn reacts to winning the women's 3,000 meter steeplechase on July 7 in Eugene, Ore.
Daniel Petty / The Denver Post
Emma Coburn reacts to winning the women’s 3,000 meter steeplechase on July 7 in Eugene, Ore.

Emma Coburn wanted to make sure her family was cool with it. Same with her boyfriend.

Once those barriers were overcome with the same quiet grace that helps Coburn excel on any steeplechase course, the former Colorado track star was more than ready to bare it all for ESPN the Magazine’s annual “Body Issue.”

Coburn made headlines, and turned more than a few heads, with her appearance this summer in the annual publication, with her sleek and toned 5-foot-8 frame juxtaposed alongside that of 325-pound football behemoth Vince Wilfork.

Having grown up predominantly in Crested Butte, the steeplechase standout was already well-trained for what proved to be a chilling photo shoot.

“I was excited to do it. I’ve always been a fan of the magazine,” Coburn said. “I’ve always seen it as art and to see it as a way to showcase different body types across sports, seeing a lineman versus me versus a volleyball player. We’re all very different, yet we’re all trying to be at the top of our game and trying to be the best in our sport. What’s remarkable is seeing all the differences in the athletes’ bodies.

“In terms of the actual shoot, it was very cold. We went up to Crested Butte and it was in May and it snowed overnight. I went and shot in the snow, barefoot and naked. I got to say it was cold, but I don’t know if this is a Colorado kid thing, but growing up we would always get out of the hot tub and get in the snow and roll around and dare each other to go as far as we could in the field and back. I will say that prepared me well.”

Coburn hopes to make headlines of another sort in the coming weeks in

Rio, as she attempts to become the first American woman to earn an Olympic medal in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

The event winner at the U.S. Olympic trials in early July, Coburn is not necessarily a slam-dunk candidate to return home with a medal. However, a good run in the sport’s most opportune moment will surely have Coburn in the mix.

“I think she’s in the best shape of her life,” said CU coach Mark Wetmore, who is doubling as the Olympic coach for both Coburn and fellow former Buff Jenny Simpson. “If the race unfolds correctly, I think she does have a good chance to get on the podium. She needs to manage traffic well, I think. Most of the races she runs, she experiences little traffic. She’s often alone. We’ll have to see how she does surrounded by another nine, 10 runners bumping her and getting in her way.”

Coburn was just 21 and the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team when she made her Olympic debut in 2012, ultimately finishing ninth overall with a time of 9 minutes, 23.54 seconds. A four-time USATF outdoor steeplechase champion and a two-time national champion at CU, Coburn is no stranger to big meets. In her second Olympic sojourn, she hopes that experience leads to a historic showing.

“A lot of the buildup is similar to 2012, but the first Olympic experience is a little overwhelming in a good way,” Coburn said. “There were moments that gave me chills just being in the village or being in the opening ceremonies. This time around it’s less about that Olympic experience than about that Olympic race, and more about those nine minutes on the track and seeing what I can do there.”

Pat Rooney: or