London • It did not take long for Shalaya Kipp to get her first taste of major international track experience at the London Olympics.
The moment the gun went off for her preliminary heat of the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase on Saturday, the elbows started flying. "You get out there and there’s more elbows than you’ve ever seen, even though it’s the same number of people," she said. "I kind of got shoved to the back early on and was boxed in."
The 21-year-old Salt Lake City native and Skyline High School grad never quite recovered, and wound up 12th out of 15 runners in 9 minutes, 48.33 seconds at the Olympic Stadium.
That was far off her personal-best of 9:35.73, never mind qualifying for the final.
Germany’s Gesa Felicitas Krause won the heat in 9:24.91, with the top four qualifiers automatically moving on, along with the next three fastest times over the three heats. That’s how defending Olympic champion Gulnara Galkina of Russia made it, finishing fifth in Kipp’s heat in 9:28.76.
The slowest qualifier was Portugal’s Clarisse Cruz, in 9:30.06, despite falling early in her heat.
But for Kipp, racing here wasn’t about what she could do now.
It was about what she can do in four years, when the Olympics are in Rio de Janeiro and she will be a much more experienced runner — hopefully with designs on greater achievements than simply reaching the final.
"In four more years, I will have had a lot more races and training under my belt," she said.
Emma Coburn certainly believes that will help.
Kipp’s close friend and teammate at the University of Colorado finished third in her heat of the steeplechase — between them, they’re the "SteepleBuffs," after CU’s buffalo mascot — and said gaining experience at international meets like the Olympics and World Championships is invaluable in becoming a truly elite competitor.
"It helps you be a little more confident in your own abilities," Coburn said. "Although I’m on the starting line for the world’s best steeplechasers, it gives me a little more confidence that I myself belong here, too, and I think she has that now."
Kipp also has the brilliant memory of walking into the majestic Olympic stadium — packed with 80,000 roaring fans — for the first time.
"Oh my gosh," she said, "they opened those doors and … I heard a sound, and at first I thought it was the wind. And then I realized it was all the people. It was the crowd. They’re fantastic. They’re so loud. I thought when you hear that kind of noise on TV, they’re just like adding it in. But it’s real."
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