Nixa native Courtney Frerichs showed the world her heart as she captured the silver medal in the 3,000-meter steeplechase run on Wednesday at the Tokyo Olympics.
Midway through the race, she separated from the pack before being passed on the final lap. She finished with a time of 9:04.79 for her best time of the season.
While Frerichs has always had the dream of being an Olympian, distance-running wasn’t originally what she set out to do.
Here are five things to know about the pride of Nixa:
1. She originally wanted to be a gymnast
When Frerichs met with reporters following the race, she thought back to being a little girl watching the Olympics.
Running in the steeplechase wasn’t on her mind. She saw the gymnasts and thought she wanted to be among them one day wearing red, white and blue.
“This is an absolute dream come true,” Frerichs said. “I grew up doing gymnastics as a kid and always watching the Olympic games hoping one day that I would be there. Now to have a medal, it’s just more than I can ask for.”
Frerichs had success as a gymnast early on. She was a two-time regional qualifier in the sport.
2. She got into distance running on accident
Frerichs wanted to stay in shape for soccer, so she went out for cross country.
Coaches instantly recognized her potential and pushed her on a path to a silver medal.
As a freshman, Frerichs ran a 2:24 in the 800 meters. She broke Nixa High records for the 5K (18:12), longest triple jump in track (34 ‘5.5″) and the fastest time in a 4×800-meter relay (10:02).
And it’s not like she wasn’t good at soccer either. Frerichs was a four-year letterman as a midfielder/forward and was an all-district and all-honorable mention player.
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3. She had a successful track collegiate career
Frerichs’ collegiate career started at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where she stood out in both cross country and track.
She began her steeplechase career in the 2012 outdoor season where she set the then-school record with a time of 10:34.48 at the MU Relays where she finished first. She placed 36th at the NCAA West Regional later in the year.
The next year, she started to win championships. Frerichs won the Summit League Championship with a record time before advancing to the NCAA Championships — where she placed sixth in the nation breaking her own school record with a time of 9:55.02.
Frerichs’ collegiate career continued at New Mexico to start the 2013-14 season. There, she didn’t even compete in the steeple during the season but earned First Team All-WAC honors by winning the 3,000-meter run with a school record at the WAC Championships meet with a time of 9:35.89.
Her return to the steeple came during the 2015 outdoor season where she improved from where she left off in Kansas City. She won the NCAA West Preliminary race before earning runner-up honors in the event at the NCAA Championships.
To finish off her collegiate career, Frerichs helped guide New Mexico to its first national championship while leading the Lobos in four of the five meets she ran at. At the NCAA Championships in Louisville, she ran to a fourth-place overall finish with four other Lobos placing in the Top 25 to capture the national title.
In the 2016 outdoor season, Frerichs finished perhaps the greatest steeplechase career in NCAA history by winning the national title with an NCAA-record time of 9:24.21 — ending her career with four of the Top 10 steeplechase times in NCAA history between Kansas City and New Mexico.
4. She’s the American steeplechase record holder and defeated Emma Coburn
Frerichs didn’t have much time to celebrate her NCAA championship as she quickly pursued her Olympic dreams.
In the same year she broke the NCAA steeplechase record, she qualified for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where she placed 11th in the finals with a time of 9:22.87.
The next year, Frerichs earned a silver medal at the World Championships with a time of 9:03.77, in London.
The highlight of Frerichs’ career, until Wednesday, came in 2018 when competing at the Diamond League meet in Monaco, when she broke the American steeplechase record by fractions of a second.
Frerichs finished with a time of 9:00.85 in the 3000-meter steeplechase while defeating Emma Coburn for the first time in her career. She beat Coburn’s American record of 9:02.58. She finished behind only world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, of Kenya.
“That race was incredible! Eight seconds under the world record, it’s such a huge step for the event,” Frerichs said in an interview with FloTrack. “I have to give so much credit to Emma for making this event what it is now in America. Who knows what’s coming next.”
5. She believed medaling was possible
When COVID-19 postponed the Olympics by a year, Frerichs kept her head high.
“It was a lot to take in,” Frerichs told the News-Leader a week after the postponement. “This week’s been better with a renewed sense of purpose and fire.
“I definitely think I expect and hope to be in the mix for a medal. It’s now about ‘how do I get back to that place and be ready to be in the mix come 2021?'”
That fire fueled her to Wednesday where she sat on the ground and wiped away tears as her dream became a reality.
Frerichs voiced her confidence in the weeks leading up to the race as well. In an interview on Sports Talk, she echoed her remarks from 2020 with the belief she could stand on the podium.
After the race, she spoke to the mental difficulties she had to overcome. Even while training in Hawaii the week before her silver medal finish, she had other obstacles to overcome — not just the hurdles or water barriers.
“Even just last week, we were training in Hawaii and I came down with a virus and spent a few days really ill,” Frerichs said. “I honestly didn’t know if I was going to make it on the plane to get here.”
Frerichs got on the plane, qualified for the finals and pulled off the run of her life with the whole world watching on Wednesday.
After she got up following the race, she draped the American flag over her shoulders and smiled as the tears flowed.
After everything she had been through, southwest Missouri’s very own was an Olympic medalist.
“This is an absolute dream come true,” she said.
Tokyo Olympics: Nixa’s Courtney Frerichs wins qualifying heat in steeplechase
Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at email@example.com or Twitter at @WyattWheeler_NL. He’s also the co-host of Sports Talk on Jock Radio weekdays from 4-6 p.m.