ALGONQUIN – Those who know Evan Jager best were thrilled with his historic run in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the IAAF World Track and Field Championships Tuesday in London.
Jager, a 2007 Jacobs graduate, took third place for the first U.S. medal in the event in a Worlds competition, one year after he was runner-up in the Olympic Games.
However, they also know the competitive fires that burn inside the 28-year-old runner.
“It was a great race, a really good race,” said Cathy Jager, Evan’s mother, from a viewing party at Buffalo Wild Wings in Algonquin. “He took it out a little earlier than I expected, but he held on really strong and he looked good.”
But how did she think Evan felt?
“Oh, he’s not happy,” she said. “He wanted the gold. He really wanted to break 8 (minutes).”
Jager led for most of the final three laps, but Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto and Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali passed him with about 300 meters remaining to finish 1-2. Kipruto, last year’s Olympics champion, ran an 8:14.12, El Bakkali had 8:14.49, while Jager finished in 8:15.53.
Jager won a Diamond League race in 8:01 last month and ran the fastest qualifying time in Sunday’s preliminary races. But Kipruto, who had not run competitively since June with an ankle injury, gave Kenya another title in the race it has dominated for decades.
“It was a good race,” said Kevin Christian, Jacobs assistant track coach who worked with Jager in high school. “It’s tough because you know he wants more. He’s happy, he medalled at the Worlds, but you can tell he wants more. Evan tried to keep it honest early on, but couldn’t respond (in the last lap) it looked like.
“It’s hard to complain about a guy getting third in a world championship. It’s a cool thing to watch, a guy from around here getting third, but if you know him, he wants more. You could tell, but it was still fun to watch.”
Jager was fifth in the 2012 London Olympics on the same track as Tuesday’s race. He was sixth the next year at Worlds, but made a big jump after that and ran the second-fastest time in Olympics history last year to take second to Kipruto.
Jager has put the U.S. on the steeplechase map and it looked like this might be the year a Kenyan was finally dethroned. He pressed a slow pace from the fourth lap on, but could not create enough distance between the hard-kicking Kipruto and El Bakkali.
“He had a tremendous race and did really well,” said Colin Brice, who graduated from Jacobs with Jager. “To be third in the world is fantastic. It couldn’t happen to a greater guy. He always stays in touch and he’s an incredible human being. It’s great to see guys like that succeed.”
Jager had to deal with something new in his career last month when a potentially Russian-backed hacker group posted documents from the IAAF with names of several track and field athletes suspected of doping or taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Jager’s name was on that list from a test in June 2016, when he was doing altitude training in Park City, Utah for the upcoming Olympics.
Jager's name appeared under “likely doping” in the leaked documents, although in a July podcast with Let’sRun.com, Jager contended "the sketchiest thing" he has ever taken was an inhaler, about five times, in the spring of 2012 when he was fighting allergies.
“If you know anything about altitude training, over the course of four weeks, your blood values are undergoing a lot of changes to compensate for the lack of oxygen that you’re getting,” Jager said. “You start creating more red blood cells. There was something in my blood that day that kind of triggered a response on the test.”
Jager said the “likely doping” came from a computer after his blood passport was read. A doctor then looked at his test and waved it off as a normal blood test for someone training in altitudes.
“That’s why I never heard anything about it from the IAAF or WADA (World Anti-Doping Association),” Jager told the podcast. “They checked me off the list, saying I was clear.”
Jager is waiting for correspondence from the IAAF in hopes the organization will confirm his account.
Still, the news hit just after Jager and his wife Sofia had traveled to Europe as he prepared for Worlds. Cathy Jager said the first few days after the list was posted were tough on her son.
“He was very upset. He paid a lot of attention to the Let’sRun.com threads and what people had to say,” Cathy said. “He kind of figured out after a couple days that it’s 50/50. Some people were like, ‘He’s totally doing it,’ and others were saying, ‘No way.’ ”
Evan Jager then decided not to worry about the posters and cleared his head for Worlds. He ran one of his best races at the Diamond League race last month.
Jager will remain in Europe and has one more big race, on Sept. 1, before returning to the U.S.