As is fitting for a specialist in a race involving 28 hurdles and seven water jumps, Evan Jager likes to look ahead, not back.
At the Paris Diamond League meet last July 4, the 27-year-old Jager was meters away from winning the steeplechase in a sub-8:00 time. He tripped over the last barrier, but recovered almost immediately and finished second in an American record of 8:00.45. When asked whether he’s still haunted by the incident, Jager jokingly says, “Not really. The only time I really think about it is when other people bring it up or ask questions about it.”
Instead, Jager’s thoughts are totally oriented toward the summer of 2016.
“I only have two goals for this year,” he says. “Make the Olympic team in the steeple and medal at the Olympics if I am able to make the team.”
For Jager, this weekend’s U.S. Indoor Championships are a means to those big-picture ends.
“My focus going into U.S. Indoors is to work on my racing tactics and trying to win a championship-style race,” he says. “If I happen to make the world team I will be very happy and do my best to try to medal.”
That both meets will be held in his training base of Portland, Ore., simplified the decision to run a brief indoor campaign. To get his qualifier for the meets, Jager placed fourth in the 3,000 at the Millrose Games on February 20. His time of 7:40.10 was just off his indoor PR for the distance.
“I would guess I’m in close to the same shape as [this time] last year, possibly just a little bit fitter,” Jager says. “We have trained just a little bit harder this winter compared to last year, and that is mainly because most of our team wanted to try to qualify for the World Indoor Championships here in Portland.”
That high level of fitness will be crucial to Evan’s goal of medaling in the Olympics. At last summer’s world championships, he led with one lap to go, perfectly positioned in the outer part of the first lane. But over the last 250 meters, he was unable to match the closing sprint of eventual winner Ezekiel Kemboi and the three other Kenyans in the race, and finished sixth.
After the final, Jager told Runner’s World, “They just have that quick step and can put five meters on you in no time, so it’s really hard to play their game. I’ve got to figure out how to do it my way. I don’t think I can do it their way and beat them.”
Months later, Jager says he meant both fitness and racing tactics when discussing how to get on the podium in a global championship. “I believe I have to be able to use race tactics that benefit my strengths, and in order to do that I need to be the fittest I have ever been so that I can follow through with those tactics,” he says.
So while Jager is looking forward to competing indoors in Portland this weekend, he has the much bigger events of the summer fully in sight.
“The biggest change I have made for this year has been my goals and my mentality,” he says. “The only thing that I care about and the only thing that I am thinking about this year is making that Olympic team and trying to medal at the Olympics if I make that team.”