Published: July 22, 2016
Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn

If there's one thing to be learned from an athlete's first Olympic experience, it is how to deal with the distractions that accompany such a monumental event.

Those athletes good enough to live the experience again apply those lessons from their maiden voyage.

Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn have learned. The two University of Colorado graduates and training partners will line up in August at the XXXI Olympiad in Rio with the first-time jitters out of the way and their eyes focused clearly on medal-worthy performances.

Simpson, an NCAA champion and multiple-time All-American as a Buff, made her Olympic debut in 2008 in the steeplechase in Beijing, where she finished ninth. She then competed in the 1,500-meter run in London in 2012, advancing to the semifinals, and this year will compete again in the 1,500 in her third Olympic appearance.

Coburn, also an NCAA champion and All-American at CU, ran in her first Olympics in London in the steeplechase and finished ninth. She'll compete in the same event this year after setting the American steeplechase record earlier this year — breaking the mark previously held by Simpson.

Simpson is no stranger to success on the world stage. She won gold at the 2011 World Championships in the 1,500, then added a silver medal to her collection in 2013. But missing from her collection is an Olympic medal, something she would like to rectify in her third appearance.

"I hope I'm getting better as I go," she said Thursday morning at a press conference at the CU Champions Center. "When you wear the red white and blue and you represent your country, it's this incredible feeling that you have. I do think I appreciate a lot of my participation and the opportunity ahead of me more than I did in 2008 and more than I did in 2012. While my respect for it and appreciation for it is growing, so is my ability to focus in on one thing and eliminate the distractions. … I think is a good thing for me to be able to focus strictly on my performance."

Coburn doesn't have quite the international experience that Simpson possesses, but she is by no means a stranger to the world stage. Along with her 2012 Olympics appearance, she also competed in the 2015 World Championships and has a host of other international races under her belt.

"Like Jenny said, the first of the Olympic experiences are a little overwhelming," Coburn said. "There are moments that gave me chills. Just being in the (Olympic) Village, being in the Opening Ceremonies. But I would say this time around is definitely less about that Olympic experience and more about that Olympic race and more about those nine minutes on the track."

Both women will be among the favorites to land a spot on the podium, as both have run times among the top 10 in the world in their event this year. Simpson's 4:01.57 clocking earlier this year in Eugene, Ore., is ninth-best in the world this year while Coburn's 9:10.76 at the same meet is fourth-best in the world. Both also won their events at the recent U.S. Championships, which served as the Olympic trials.

Read more.