The steeplechase at Meeting AREVA in Paris last weekend will be debated for years to come. It is definite now, from Kenya, to France to Beijing, that Evan Jager is a medal threat. Chris Chavez, who is flying around Europe, covering meets, sees that Evan Jager, with his superb 8:00.45, has entered the world record and gold medal conversation.
Evan Jager enters the world record and gold medal conversation at 26
By Chris Chavez
What could’ve been is the big question now. What could’ve been of Evan Jager’s race had he not fallen on the final barrier.
But let’s be real, who wouldn’t get a little excited and tired looking at the clock with 100-meters to go, knowing that you would break 8-minutes at the distance.
“A split second later, I told myself to focus and get over this last barrier, be technically sound and don’t be sloppy,” Jager recalled. “I don’t know if I was running too fast or I was too tired, but my lead toe barely flipped the final barrier and I couldn’t stop myself from falling. I couldn’t believe I did that.”
If you time the moment Jager clipped the final hurdle to the moment Birech clears it, you’ll notice that he nearly had a two second lead on the Kenyan. With less than 50-meters remaining, a solid estimate would have put Jager at 7:56 high or 7:57 low. Oh, the world record is 7:53.63 by Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Qatar from 2004.
Jager now enters the IAAF World Championship gold medal conversation and quite possibly the world record hunt at the age of 26. Talk among the Kenyans in the mixed zone prognosticated a 7:55 performance from Jager on Saturday night.
“I can’t even comprehend that,” Jager said. “I didn’t think I was in that shape. Maybe I was in eight-flat shape. If that’s the case, it’s pretty incredible and gives me a lot of confidence going into World Champs.”
He’s come a long way since his injury in 2010 as he shaved five seconds off his 8:05.28 American record in Paris. Jager says that coach Jerry Schumacher has tweaked a few things in practice, but a lot of the consistency has remained the same.
“I feel like I’ve made steady progress whether my results show that or not over the last few years,” Jager said.
He ran 3:32 at the Portland Track Festival and believes that was much easier than his steeplechase run in Paris.
“Honestly, 3:32 didn’t hurt at all until 100-meters to go,” Jager said. “I didn’t have time to hurt. I basically had a perfect rabbit for 1,400-meters and I was able to sit on Garret and kicks.”
Jager started making his push with 800-meters to go, but it was easily a race between him and Birech with two kilometers remaining as Ezekiel Kemboi was a non-factor (finished 11th). It’s something he would be comfortable with in Beijing, but knows the Kenyans will not plan on a fast race.
“I’m not going to give anything away,” Jager said. “I think waiting until the last 300-meters helps a lot of those guys out more than it helps me out. I doubt the race plan that we come up with involves a 200 or 300-meter kick.”
The Kenyans know.
“For World Championships now you know this guy is coming, it’s so hard to predict,” Birech said.
Jager returns to Portland on Monday and will train at altitude in Park City, Utah before tuning up with one final low-key meet and making his way over to China shortly thereafter.
As for the United States, just about a week removed from the U.S. Track and Field Outdoor Championships, the three team members fared well in Paris. Dan Huling was two seconds off his personal best, but banged up his knee just slightly in the final lap on one of the hurdles. Donn Cabral ran his best against international competition all year after 8:19 performances at the Prefontaine Classic and Bislett Games. The potential is there for three U.S. men in the final.