First American steeplechase medalist since 1984 owes it all to pizza

Fourth-Place Medal

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For those of us who can’t quit pizza, it’s reassuring to discover the world’s greatest food can help make you an Olympian. Sure, it’s a stretch, but I’m all for anything that makes eating pizza guilt free.

After placing third in the 3,000-meter steeplechase Monday to become the first American since Brian Diemer to medal in the event at the Olympics — and the first American woman ever to do so (the Olympics added women’s steeplechase in 2008) — Emma Coburn thanked a pizzeria for its support.

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“To everyone at the Brick Oven, being your waitress and busboy and hostess was so much fun,” Coburn said in response to a reporter’s question about what she’d like to say to the folks watching in the restaurant back home in Crested Butte, Colo. “Thank you for being there to support me now.”

Crested Butte might sound like what you get when you eat a few too many slices, but it’s actually a former coal mining mountain town four hours outside Denver, known for skiing, mountain biking and — now — steeplechase, thanks to Coburn, who set the American record with a time of 9:07.63 in Rio.

Coburn and her siblings worked at Brick Oven Pizzeria while growing up in the small town, where she captured state titles in the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs for Crested Butte Community School. Colorado still doesn’t hold the steeplechase at its prep state meets, but Coburn may have gotten her feet wet for the obstacle course while competing against pizza chefs in the alley outside Brick Oven.

#brickovenpizzeria has an amazing beer selection!

A photo posted by RZ (@rziccarelli) on Feb 14, 2014 at 5:00pm PST

“Neither one of (the Coburn sisters) were really sprinters,” longtime Brick Oven manager Colleen Farrell explained in 2012, when Emma first qualified for the U.S. Olympic team, “so sometimes the kitchen guys got lucky … but they wouldn’t want to line up with Emma now in her event.”

Coburn attended the University of Colorado and sandwiched NCAA championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase around a redshirt season in 2012, when she placed ninth at the 2012 London Olympics. At age 25, she’s now a three-time USA Track & Field national champion and an Olympic bronze medalist. So, it’s safe to assume now she owes it all to the marinara and mozzarella of Crested Butte.

Emma Coburn poses with the bronze medal for the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase. (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Emma Coburn poses with the bronze medal for the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase. (Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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