Jager Is A ‘Natural’ In the Quirky Steeplechase Event

In just over a year, the American has become a world-class steeplechase runner.

In just over a year, the American has become a world-class steeplechase runner.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

MOSCOW — It has not yet been 16 months since Evan Jager ran his first ever 3000m steeplechase, yet the former University of Wisconsin Badger has already become one of America’s best competitors in the event. In that short span of time, with endurance and technical coaching from both Jerry Schumacher and Pascal Dobert, Jager, 24, has already set a new American record (8:06.81), become the USA champion twice, and made both the Olympic and World Championships finals. Indeed, he was sixth at last summer’s London Games.

“I don’t feel like it’s a new event for me,” Jager told reporters after winning his preliminary race here Monday morning in 8:23.76 and qualifying for Thursday’s final. “I feel like I gained a lot of confidence last year, and then opening up in the steeple at Pre [Prefontaine Classic] with an 8:08 was a huge amount of confidence for me. I’m starting to really love the event now.”

The love affair began at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., in April 2012. In his debut in the quirky discipline which requires endurance, speed, hurdling and leaping ability, he clocked an Olympic Games “B” standard and meet record time of 8:26.14. More importantly, Jager was already technically adept at the event, thanks to Dobert’s coaching which emphasized perfect form and technique for the get-go. Dobert, 39, won three consecutive national steeplechase titles from 1998 to 2000 and was known for his smooth form.

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“He’s been huge,” Jager said of Dobert’s influence. “He’s been with me everyday from day one when we started training. What I really loved about him coaching me for the steeple was right away he was telling me how to do it perfectly. And, it obviously was a long process to get everything down correctly — hurdling technique and water-jumping — but he just expected me, he was almost teaching me, how to do it perfectly right from the get-go.”

The speed of Jager’s improvement was staggering. He knocked five seconds off his personal best in just his second steeple, then dropped another 3.5 seconds when he won the U.S. Olympic Trials in 8:17.40, a mark which was nearly as fast as Dobert’s lifetime best (8:15.77).

But it was his American record of 8:06.81 at the Herculis Meeting in Monaco in July 2012 that really turned heads. Daniel Lincoln’s previous mark of 8:08.82 had stood for more than six years. Jager had clearly found a home.

“I definitely love it,” said Jager, who can lead into the water jump or the barriers with either leg. “It took me like two weeks … to get hurdling down. Once I did that, it felt really comfortable for me. I just knew I was going to have a lot of fund with the event because it just felt so natural.

“I definitely just choose to do this event because I really enjoy it and, obviously, I think it’s my best event.”

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Jager — who pronounces his name “JAY-ger” — has become almost as well known for his thick mop of dirty blond hair which he restrains with a white headband when he races (his hair even has a Twitter fan account, @JagersHair). He was not a skateboarder as some have believed, but he used to snowboard, an activity he said is off limits for now.

For his final here — which will have four Kenyans, including two-time Olympic gold medalist Ezekiel Kemboi and 2012 world junior champion Conseslus Kipruto, and two-time Olympic silver medalist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France — Jager isn’t intimidated and looks forward to the challenge.

“Definitely comfortable being in the top-5 with the Kenyans, Mekhissi and Roba Gari,” Jager said. “I’m hoping for a fast race. If it’s really fast I’m not going to be upset.”