2012 Oxy Perf Steeplechase, photo by PhotoRun.net
This story just came in from Jon Gugala, our writer in Monaco. Here is his piece on the new American record holder, Evan Jager. Jager has shaken up the paradigm on steeplechasing in America-a fast miler chooses the steeple, and in five races, makes the Olympic team and now, sets the AR.
Jon Gugala, who covered the Herculis Monaco meet for Runblogrun yesterday. We hope you enjoy this piece!
Evan Jager Sets Steeplechase American Record in Monaco
by Jon Gugala
MONACO – Evan Jager counts: Three, four, five, six.
It’s not how many steeplechases he’s run; he’s still finishing his fifth.
Jager counts seconds–to himself–because the trackside clock for the Herculis Meeting
International d’Athletisme stopped when Kenya’s Conselus Kipruto came from behind to
out-kick compatriot Paul Koetch for the win, 8:03.49 to 8:03.90.
Jager crosses the finish. “I think I just ran 8:06,” he remembers thinking.
It flashes: 8:06.81. Jager, 23 years old this past March, just set the American record,
bettering Dan Lincoln’s 2006 mark of 8:08.82.
To the assembled crowd, his performance is a footnote to a great race between the two
Kenyans. But to the United States, it will be much, much more.
On Saturday, the morning after the meet, Jager, from Algonquin, Ill., and for the past
four years of Portland, Ore., sits in a quiet corner of the Fairmont Monte Carlo lobby.
His long blond hair flares out from under a Chicago Bulls cap as he squints into the
glare coming off the bay through the picture windows. His face is pale and he sometimes
loses his train of thought–“I could not sleep at all last night,” he admits.
He went to sleep late and then woke suddenly around 7 A.M. with visions of the race.
One: going over the water barrier, each time passing a Kenyan.
Another: coming into the home straight with only the bell lap remaining, the
clock reading 7:02, 7:03, the AR possible.
The final: gutting into that last straight, the two Kenyans ahead shoulder
to shoulder kicking for the win, and the clock at 7:50.
“I had to go through this race to be able to put any expectations [at the
Olympics] on myself at all,” Jager says. “I hadn’t been tested in a hard
race before, and I hadn’t run against international competition. I didn’t
know what it was like to run against the Kenyans.”
The whole idea to come out to Monaco, he says, was to see how he stacked up.
The AR was always something Jager knew he would get–even when he started his first
hurdle workout ever this past November. That he got it this early was a surprise.
When approaching the steeple, he converted his 3,000-meters PR of 7:41.78, set in
the Monaco meet in 2009, by adding 30 seconds. Voila, 8:11. “When you get to that
time zone, it’s only natural you start to think about the AR,” he says.
It’s been almost as simple as that: Jager ran just two steeples before the
Olympic trials (Mt. Sac in April, under the trials “A” standard; Oxy High
Performance in May, under the Olympic “A” standard). He then earned his Olympic
spot after seemingly descending from the heavens to Hayward, running an un-pressed
PR 8:17.40 for the win over every steeple veteran the U.S. has. (If you’re keeping count, it was his fourth time, including the prelim round, running the event.)
Jager was the impulsive youth that dropped out of D-I University of Wisconsin
after a year to follow his coach Jerry Schumacher and a trio of accomplished
upperclassmen across the country–and it worked. As part of the “Wisconsin Sweep,”
Jager and teammates Chris Solinsky and Matt Tegenkamp went three-two-one in the
2009 U.S. Championships 5,000-meters. All would go to that year’s IAAF World
Championships in Berlin.
That pedigree, with 3:54.35 mile and 13:22.18 5,000-meters bests, is now
funneled into the steeplechase, into the 2012 Olympic team trials, into an
American record, and in August, into the London Olympics. Jager is more than just dominant in the U.S.; he is a different level of athlete that we’ve seen move to the event. And now that he owns the American record, it begs the question: What would happen if other talented U.S. athletes went into the steeplechase?
It’s a cruel question, full of intimations. It’s insulting. It’s also true.
Ask Jager to verbalize it and with little prompting he knows what you’re getting at.
“The stigma in the U.S. is it’s left to runners that can’t hack it in the 5K or the 15
[1,500-meters]. It’s the ugly step-sister of the distance events,” he says. “I think
that it’s unfortunate that that’s the case. I don’t think it should be left that way.”
Ask him if he’s ready to be the figurehead of the distance to bring it into preeminence.
There, he’s still 23: “Maybe,” he says, laughing. “I’d just like to open people’s eyes
a little bit.”
And though he admits a shiny, new AR does change expectations for the Olympics,
he’s not one to share them.
“I talked to Jerry [Schumacher] last night and he kept saying, ‘I think you can do
great things,'” Jager says. “That’s the way I like to look at it. You’re not looking
for a time or a place in a certain meet. You’re looking at it as you have an opportunity
to do some really great things. Whatever that may be is what it is, but I’ll keep that
And I only partly believe him. I believe the part that his dreams will be kept to himself.
But he hints at the truth in the lobby of the Fairmont Monte Carlo, little more than 12
hours after his American record and after a night where there were no dreams, just
memories. Jager says, “The next step is bigger dreams.”