Jager breezes into Olympic steeplechase final
On the biggest stage of his young professional career, Evan Jager looked completely at ease and in control.
The 2007 Jacobs graduate from Algonquin took a second to wave into the camera just before his 3,000-meter steeplechase preliminary race Friday at the Olympic Games in London. Then, with an intent and focused look, he cranked out another impressive run in his new event.
Jager let up in the final 40 meters and finished second in his heat in 8:16.61 to qualify for Sunday’s finals race. France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad (8:16.23) edged Jager for the heat victory. They had the fastest qualifying times out of the three heats.
The steeplechase finals are scheduled for 3:25 CDT on Sunday, about 9:25 p.m. in London. Fans can view the finals live on nbcolympics.com by clicking on On-Line Listings and then going to the date and selecting “Track and Field.”
Jager’s time was 10 seconds slower than his personal-best July 21 in Monaco, but qualifying was the main thing.
The strategy, Jager told the Register-Guard from Eugene, Ore., was to just position himself among the top four runners and conserve as much energy as possible. Then, Jager found himself in the lead with two laps remaining and could not resist taking over. Knowing he was comfortably in the finals, he slowed down and was passed by 2008 Olympics steeplechase runner-up Mekhissi-Benabbad just before the finish line.
“At that point, I didn’t want to slow it down and let guys back in the race,” Jager told the Register-Guard. “So, I started to make a gradual push toward the
end. My coach [Jerry Schumacher] will probably be a little mad that I took the lead and pushed. But it worked out in the end. I didn’t have to kick. I felt pretty relaxed the whole time. It was good. I saw I had it locked up, so I coasted in.”
Jager, 23, won four state titles in high school track and cross country before going to Wisconsin in 2007-08. After one year there, he left with Schumacher, the former Badgers coach, to run professionally in Oregon with Nike.
Jager was running the steeplechase for only the sixth time Friday in London. He grabbed the lead for most of the final two laps before Mekhissi-Benabbad kicked at the finish. Jager finished well off his personal-best time of 8:06.81, the U.S. record he set on July 21, but his heat was easily the fastest of the day.
Ethiopia’s Roba Gari (8:20.68) and Kenya’s Brimin Kipruto (8:28.62) won the other two heats. Kipruto is the defending Olympics champion. A Kenyan runner has won the past seven Olympic steeplechase races. Neither of the two Kenyans who beat Jager in Monaco on July 21 in an IAAF Track and Field Diamond League Meet race (Conselus Kipruto and Paul Kipsiele) are in the Olympic steeplechase.
U.S. runner Donn Cabral also qualified for the steeplechase final by taking fourth in the third heat.
Jager qualified for the World Track and Field Championships in 2009 in Munich in the 5,000 meters but suffered a setback with a broken bone in his right foot in 2010. After recovering and working himself back into shape last year, he and Schumacher, along with hurdles coach Pascal Dodert, began training for the steeplechase.
Now, Jager has asserted himself as a medal contender heading into Sunday’s race. The Diamond Meet race, along with Friday’s preliminary, indicate he can run with anyone at the Olympic Games.
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