Why This Steeplechaser’s Victory Lap Was So Important

After her bronze in the 3000-meter steeplechase, American Emma Coburn took a powerful stand for athletes’ rights

Emma Coburn drapes an American flag—and her New Balance sneakers— over her shoulders after her bronze-medal steeplechase performance. (Getty Images)

Emma Coburn did something Monday night in Rio that no American had in three decades: medal in the steeplechase. In the 3000-meter race, which features 28 hurdles and seven water jumps, Coburn broke her own American record with a time of 9:07.63, earning bronze. After the race, she took off her New Balance shoes, hung them around her neck, and took a victory lap—exhibiting her individual sponsor in front of the cameras, in an act of defiance. The action directly challenges a long-standing Olympics policy notorious for inhibiting athletes’ ability to profit off their sport.

Rule 40 in the Olympic Charter bars any businesses (other than official corporate sponsors) from mentioning the Olympics or Olympic-related terms during the entire month of the games, and competitors from mentioning unofficial sponsors, even on social media. For competitors without household names, the rule is a major obstacle to funding, since companies can’t explicitly promote a sponsored athlete’s Olympic success. Elite American track and field athletes make less than $15,000 a year and receive no state funding, other than medal bonuses.

This summer, athletes and companies have fought back. Seattle-based Brooks Running Co., which sponsors 12 athletes in Rio, launched and the #rule40 campaign to raise awareness of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s social media stranglehold. Meanwhile, on July 26, the day before the blackout started, many U.S. Olympians pinned tweets about their sponsors to the top of their timeline.

But Coburn’s New Balance display was the highest-profile protest yet. Runner’s World’s Erin Strout reported that Coburn, in a post-race interview, even mentioned the shoe company by name. She corrected herself, saying, “I mean, the company that pays me,” to laughter from the press.

Rule 40 is designed to help national Olympic committees fund operations through exclusive licensing deals—and indeed the exclusivity adds dollar value for the committees and sponsors—but when the reported $10 million that Nike annually pays USA Track and Field serves to disenfranchise rather than support athletes, something is amiss.


Some beauty pageants, like the Miss America competition, have done away with the swimsuit portions of the competitions, thus dipping their toes in the 21st century. Other aspects of beauty pageants remain stuck in the 1950s, and we're not even talking about the whole "judging women mostly on their looks" thing. One beauty pageant winner was disqualified for being a mom, as if you can't be beautiful after you've had a kid. Now she's trying to get the Miss World competition to update their rules.

Veronika Didusenko won the Miss Ukraine pageant in 2018. After four days, she was disqualified because pageant officials found out she was a mom to 5-year-old son Alex, and had been married. Didusenko said she had been aware of Miss World's rule barring mother from competing, but was encouraged to compete anyways by pageant organizers.

Keep Reading Show less

One mystery in our universe is a step closer to being solved. NASA's Parker Solar Probe launched last year to help scientists understand the sun. Now, it has returned its first findings. Four papers were published in the journal Nature detailing the findings of Parker's first two flybys. It's one small step for a solar probe, one giant leap for mankind.

It is astounding that we've advanced to the point where we've managed to build a probe capable of flying within 15 million miles from the surface of the sun, but here we are. Parker can withstand temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and travels at 430,000 miles per hour. It's the fastest human-made vehicle, and no other human-made object has been so close to the sun.

Keep Reading Show less
via Sportstreambest / Flickr

Since the mid '90s the phrase "God Forgives, Brothers Don't" has been part of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point's football team's lexicon.

Over the past few years, the team has taken the field flying a black skull-and-crossbones flag with an acronym for the phrase, "GFBD" on the skull's upper lip. Supporters of the team also use it on social media as #GFBD.

Keep Reading Show less