The king of American steeplechase must sit this one out.
Evan Jager, who has the top nine 3,000-meter steeplechase times in U.S. track and field history, had his training disrupted for several months by a left foot injury and eventually, with his coaches, pulled the plug on his 2019 season.
Jager, a 2007 Jacobs High School graduate from Algonquin, missed the U.S Track and Field Championships two weeks ago at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, ending his seven-year reign as American champion. By not being able to defend his championship, Jager could not qualify for Team USA and his fourth trip to the World Track and Field Championships, which will take place in Doha, Qatar, from Sept. 27 through Oct. 6.
Jager had struggled with the injury most of the past year. Ultimately, he decided to rest, let the foot heal properly and set his sights on the 2020 Olympics next year in Tokyo.
“Ideally, I would have been healthy and run at USA’s and tried to make the team and run at Worlds,” said Jager, from his home in Portland, Oregon. “My body was just not cooperating. I felt the smarter thing to do was focus on getting healthy and making sure I was ready for next year.”
Jager has top-six finishes in the past three World Championships, which are held in odd-numbered years, and in the past two Olympic Games. He took a silver medal in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with the second-fastest steeplechase time (8:04.28) in Olympic history. Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto beat him by exactly one second in 8:03.28.
Jager, 30, took third in the 2017 World Championships and was running well in 2018 until he incurred an abdominal injury. Eventually, he suffered a torn iliacus muscle (a hip flexor) on his left side, but tried to run through it a few days later.
“I think it threw a couple of things off,” he said. “I came down weird in one of the water-pit jumps and jammed my foot pretty bad. I came back to the states and found I had a slight fracture in my left foot. It kind of went a little misdiagnosed at the time. I didn’t take the necessary amount of time off to fully recover.”
So Jager went through this year trying to train, but taking breaks as the pain recurred. He took six weeks off of running, walking on crutches to let the bone heal. At that point, he had 40 days to prepare for the U.S. Championships.
Some pain then flared up again in the foot, and Jager was shut down for 2019. It is his first significant injury since 2010, when he suffered a broken bone in his right foot that required two screws inserted and six months of rest. Two years later, competing in steeplechase for the first time, he took sixth in the London Olympic Games.
“That one [in 2010] I had surgery. It was a little more invasive and serious,” Jager said. “I’m already running. After I got off the crutches, I quickly got back into workouts. I’m healthy now, just not healthy enough to be working out at the level you need to be to qualify for Worlds. It was a little too quick. I’m feeling a lot better. There’s a little awareness that I did have something going on [with the foot]. At this point, I feel better running than I have in over a year. I feel a lot better now.”
Jager won four state titles in high school, one in cross country, three in track distance races. He ran for one year at Wisconsin with former Badgers cross country and distance coach Jerry Schumacher. When Jager was 19, he came with Schumacher to Portland to run professionally with Nike. A few years later, they found that Jager, with his 6-foot-2 frame, was perfectly suited for the steeplechase, a race with 28 barriers and seven water jumps.
With most of the track and field season over after the World Championships, Jager and his Nike teammates will transition into their usual longer, slower fall workouts to prepare for next year.
Jager aims to get back to the Olympics next year with hopes of breaking the Kenyans’ stronghold on that race. No American has won an Olympics steeplechase since Horace Ashenfelter in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland.
Jager would like to add two more Olympics to his résumé, which would take him through at least five more years of professional running.
“If I could go through four Olympics cycles, that would be really cool,” Jager said. “I’ve always had a goal to try and make four Olympic teams. I have to make a third next year before I can even start talking about a fourth. I’m not really thinking about the long term yet.”