Evan Jager will run his first 3,000-meter steeplechase of the year in Wednesday’s ExxonMobil Bislett Games in Oslo (2:15 p.m. ET). Jager holds the current American record of 8:06.81 from 2012. Below, we break down whether he can top that mark on Wednesday.
Why Evan Jager CAN Set The American Record
1. He’s in better shape than last year
Jager is following a very similar progression to his outdoor season in 2013. Let’s compare his first three outdoor races in ‘13 and ‘14:
Payton Jordan 5,000 (April 28): 13:14.60
Oxy 1,500 (May 17): 3:36.34
Pre Classic 3,000 steeple (June 1): 8:08.60
Payton Jordan 5,000 (May 4): 13:08.63
Pre Classic International Mile (May 31): 3:53.33
Bislett Games 3,000 steeple (June 11): ???
The sequence of races is almost identical. 13:08 is obviously better than 13:14 and 3:53.33 is slightly better than 3:36.34 (3:36 is about 3:54 for a full mile). If Jager is better at the 5,000 and better at the mile than this time last year, it stands to reason that he’s better at the steeple as well. That 8:08.60 at Pre in 2013 was Jager’s second-fastest time ever; his American record is 8:06.81 from 2012. Based on his performances in the 5,000 and mile, you’d expect Jager to be 2-3 seconds faster in the steeple than he was in ‘13. That’s all he needs to set a new American Record.
Oslo will be Jager’s first steeple of 2014, but it’s his third year running the event. When Jager set the American record in July 2012, that was just the fifth steeple of his life (and first on the Diamond League circuit). Jager has run seven more since then, including an Olympic final and a World Championship final. Just like with any new skill, the more you practice the steeple, the better you get. Jager has two full years of steeple training he didn’t have when he set the American Record.
3. Jager is under-raced on the Diamond League circuit
Guess how many Diamond League steeples Jager has raced since he set the American record in July 2012?
One. Last year’s Pre Classic was Jager’s second and most recent DL steeple. Last year, he ran the steeple at just three meets: Pre, USAs and Worlds.
He was fifth at Worlds last year in 8:08.67 and ran 13:02.40 for 5,000 three weeks later in Brussels. If he did a steeple instead of that 5,000, there’s no way he doesn’t run sub-8:06. Plus, the two guys he was closest to at Worlds last year both have way faster PRs than Jager. He was .05 seconds behind Kenyan Paul Koech, who has run 7:54 and .81 seconds behind Frenchman Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, who has run 8:00. The race was won in 8:06. If Jager can run 8:08 in an 8:06 race at Worlds, he can run 8:05 in a fast DL race.
Jager runs well against top competition in the steeple, he just doesn’t get many opportunities to do it. That opportunity arrives on Wednesday.
Coach Jerry Schumacher has clearly been keeping Jager out of steeples to keep him hungry and to give him a goal to shoot for.
Why Evan Jager WON’T Set The American Record
1. Rome went slow last week with a similar field
Kenyan Jairus Birech won Thursday’s Diamond League steeple in Rome in just 8:06.20 and there was a big gap behind him to Koech in second (8:10.53). 2008 Olympic champ Brimin Kipruto and 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Abel Mutai ran just 8:11 and 8:15 for third and fourth. Those four are the four best guys (plus Jager) in Oslo, and it’s not like the pacing was super-slow (2:41 at 1k, 5:24 at 2k).
Additionally, in four of the last five DL steeples (dating back to 2013), the winner hasn’t broken 8:06. If they didn’t run that fast in Rome, there’s evidence to suggest that it might not be faster six days later in Oslo, especially when you consider that…
2. The Kenyan Commonwealth Games trials were held on Saturday
Birech, the only guy who ran fast in Rome, will be racing his third steeple in seven days in Oslo. After winning in Rome last Thursday, he flew to Kenya, won the Kenyan Commonwealth Games trials on Saturday and then flew to Oslo, where he’ll race on Wednesday. Running three steeples like that in quick succession will be difficult. Birech is the only guy who ran well last week in Rome, and if he’s tired, the chances of a fast race for Jager diminish.
Koech, Kipruto and Mutai didn’t run in the Kenyan trials, but that only makes their performance in Rome more puzzling. If they weren’t saving themselves for the trials last weekend, there’s no reason for them to run slowly in Rome. The good thing for Jager is that you don’t always need great competition to run fast in the steeple — just ask Emma Coburn.
Verdict: Jager is in shape to run the American Record. The only question is whether the field goes fast enough.
Jager was in PR shape late in 2013 and didn’t get another steeple in after Worlds. He’s running better to start 2014 than he was to start 2013. Everything points to him finishing highly in Oslo. If this race is won in close to 8:00, Jager should set the American record. But if it’s slow, Jager will have to be ready to pull a Coburn if he wants to PR.
Could Jager win?
Since the Diamond League began in 2010, an American man has never won a men’s steeplechase race. The same could be said for almost every other country: Kenya is 29-for-30 in DL steeples.
But Jager was fifth at Worlds last year, and only one man who beat him in Moscow (Koech) will run in Oslo. The odds are still against him — Birech, Koech and Kipruto are all right around Jager’s level right now, and for him to beat all three is a big ask. But as we mentioned before, Birech is going to be tired and Koech and Kipruto didn’t run super-fast last week. Jager is fresher than all of them and ready to run fast.
The odds of him winning this race are higher than Galen Rupp’s winning the men’s 5000.
LRC Prediction: Jager mania. American record.
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