August 17, 2016
RIO DE JANEIRO — America’s 32-year Olympic medal drought in the steeplechase is over. After the men’s final started quickly, Evan Jager kept the honest pace going by taking the lead in the middle stages of the race and was rewarded with much-deserved silver medal.
However, over the final 400, Jager was no match for Kenya’s 21-year-old Conseslus Kipruto, who won in an Olympic record of 8:03.28 – Kenya’s 9th straight Olympic gold in this event (11th straight gold at Olympics they haven’t boycotted). Kipruto, the 2016 world leader who had won silver at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships, was already celebrating as he came off the final turn before he’d even jumped over the final barrier.
Behind Kipruto, Jager and Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya were battling it out for silver. Kemboi, the 2-time Olympic champion and winner of the last five global championships, who is regarded by most as the greatest steeplechaser ever, was in second coming off the final water jump but Kemboi’s famous late-race close was nowhere to be seen as either the honest pace or age or a combination of the two was creeping up on the 34-year-old Kemboi.
Jager moved into second just before the final barrier and by the time Jager got the finish line, he was more than 10 meters up on Kemboi, who jogged it in. Just before Jager crossed the finish line in 8:04.28, he pumped both fists and screamed to celebrate America’s first men’s steeplechase medal since Brian Diemer won the bronze at the 1984 Games. Kemboi would cross in 8:08.47 with France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi – the winner of the last two silver medals – finishing fourth in 8:11.52.
Update: In an outrageous move showing a complete lack of sportsmanship, the French have protested and gotten Kemboi DQ’d for stepping on the line more than a mile from the finish line.
“That was just the last two years of dreaming of that moment – thinking about it every single day, it actually coming to fruition and coming true. That was a lifelong dream of mine coming true and those emotions that you guys were seeing (was everything) that I was feeling inside of me. It was unbelievable,” said Jager about his celebration to Lewis Johnson on NBC after the race.
When asked at the post-race press conference whether his medal felt like gold considering Kenya’s historic dominance: “It feels like silver, but I’m totally OK with silver,” said Jager who added that he would have been content had he not medalled as long he was convinced he gave it 100% effort.
After finishing the race, Jager briefly hugged Conseslus Kipruto before putting his arm around Kemboi’s shoulder, rubbing him on the head and taking a long time to console the most decorated champion in the event’s history.
When Kemboi excited the track and came through the mixed zone, he announced he was hanging up the spikes.
“I just want to say today that I am officially retiring from athletics. I want to say thanks to all of my fans over the world – to the people in Kenya (and) my family. Today will be the last athletics (competition) of my career. Thank you,'” said Kemboi.
1 Conseslus KIPRUTO – KEN 08:03.28 OR
2 Evan JAGER – USA 08:04.38 SB
3 Ezekiel KEMBOI – KEN 08:08.47 SB
4 Mahiedine MEKHISSI – FRA 08:11.52 SB
5 Soufiane ELBAKKALI – MAR 08:14.35 PB
6 Yoann KOWAL – FRA 08:16.75 SB
7 Brimin Kiprop KIPRUTO – KEN 08:18.79 SB
8 Hillary BOR – USA 08:22.74 PB
9 Donald CABRAL – USA 08:25.81
10 Altobeli DA SILVA – BRA 08:26.30 PB
11 Matthew HUGHES – CAN 08:36.83
12 Yemane HAILESELASSIE – ERI 08:40.68
Amor BEN YAHIA – TUN DQ R 163.3b
Jacob ARAPTANY – UGA DNF
Hamid EZZINEMAR DNF
1000m Conseslus KIPRUTO KEN 2:41.64
2000m Evan JAGER USA 5:25.82
Considering the Olympic record was set, it should come as no surprise to learn that the pace was honest from the start. Kipruto led the field through the first kilometer in 2:51.85. On the fourth lap, after the runners came off the water jump for the third time, Jager sensed the pace was slowing so he took the lead. He’d keep the lead and the pace honest all the way to the bell.
A lap after Jager took the lead, the eventual top three medallists started to gap the field. At 2k (52:5.82), Jager had 15 meters (2.4 seconds) on the fourth placer, 2008 Olympic champ Brimin Kipruto. With 2 laps remaining, the top three were more than 20 meters clear and it was clear that barring a fall the medallists had been decided. But who would get what color?
As the runners approached the bell, Kipruto moved up to the lead from third. Kemboi moved around Jager and chased after him. They race for gold was on. As they ran down the backstretch, Kipruto started to pull away from Kemboi, who had a few meters on Jager. Kipruto, who had been on the wrong end of Kemboi’s ferocious kick at the last two global championships, was trying to end this one early. He covered the first 200 of the final lap in 29.3 and led by nearly 10 meters (1.3 seconds).
It would take a monstrous effort from Kemboi now but as they ran the final turn, the lead would only get bigger. Before Kipruto had even finished the final turn, he put his right arm up in celebration. Only a fall on the final barrier would prevent him from gold. A fall didn’t happen and Kirpruto then went into full celebration mode and was basically walking by the time he crossed the line to finish off a final lap of 60.1.
Kemboi had put 3-4 meters on Jager in the first half of the last lap by running a 30.4 to Jagers 31.2 but Jager started to come on after the final water jump. He pulled ahead just before the final barrier and Kemboi, who slowed and took it safe, had no response. Silver belonged to Jager, and bronze to Kemboi.
Quick Take #1: Kipruto has put together one of the greatest steeplechase seasons of all time
Kipruto has raced seven steeplechase finals this year and only lost one of them — the Kenyan Olympic Trials, which deserves a massive asterisk considering Kipruto was not running for the win. He just broke the Olympic record while celebrating with 100 meters to go, has destroyed the competition on the Diamond League circuit and has the world’s four fastest times this year, all under 8:05. All that’s missing is a sub-8:00, but he’s come close on several occasions this year and should be in shape to do it if he gets in a fast race later this year.
Quick Take #2: Speaking of greatest – Ezekiel Kemboi, the world’s greatest steeplechaser has retired
Kemboi’s retirement gets its own article here as we need more than a few words to pay tribute to his career.
Quick Take #3: A historic medal for Jager, who ends the U.S.’s longest Olympic medal drought in a men’s running event
Entering the Olympics, the U.S.’s longest medal drought in a men’s track event was in the men’s steeple, which stood at 32 years. An American hadn’t medalled at Worlds in that event either during that span, making Jager’s silver today a truly historic accomplishment.
“I think we’ve all known for a while that Evan’s been at that level to do it, so it doesn’t mean anything for me in terms of that,” Jager’s U.S. teammate Donn Cabral said. “I think Evan’s been ready to medal. I think it’s just a testament to him that he was able to conquer his nerves, conquer the elements and really run the style of race that works for him. I think it was a great feat for Evan but I think American steeplechasing, aside from my race today, is where it needs to be in its progression and I think Evan is showing that.”
Jager, a student of the sport, recognized the enormity of what it means to stand on the podium and beat a legend in Kemboi.
“It’s very cool. I know the history of the sport especially in the U.S. I know how dominant Kenya has been the last 20-30 years. I do know how big of an achievement it is but I don’t know if it’s hit me yet…For me personally, I know [Kemboi] is older than probably everyone else in the field but he’s still in my eyes the greatest of all time. No matter how old he is, it’s still a big achievement and I’m very proud to have beat him in a championship-style race today. He’s incredible.”
Jager also paid homage to former American record holder Dan Lincoln when interviewed by NBC’s Lewis Johnson. When Johnson said, “History will say that you have returned the American steeplechasers back to prominence on the biggest stage possible, what does that mean to you?” Jager responded, “It means a lot but we had really great steeplechasers in the 80s and 90s, and (former American record holder) Dan Lincoln started bringing that back and my training partner Dan Huling kind of bridged the gap between Lincoln and myself and I’m just happy to carry the torch and keep it going and hopefully inspire some really talented kids to come out for the steeplechase and possibly win a medal some day.”
Quick Take #4: Last year, Jager put himself under tremendous pressure to medal; his new, relaxed approach paid dividends this year
Jager exulted when he crossed the finish line, experiencing a feeling he called “total joy.” However, if he had finished in the same place a year ago in Beijing, he said that feeling “probably would have been relief.”
Jager has taken a more relaxed approach this year, especially over the last few months. It’s helped that Jager was holed up in Park City for much of the summer: between June 1 and the Olympics, Jager only raced twice — the prelims and finals of the Olympic Trials.
“It’s been really weird,” Jager said. “This whole year, me, myself and a bunch of my teammates, I think because we were up at altitude kind of removed from everything, we didn’t really feel the pressure of it being an Olympic year. In 2012, I was stressed for probably 2-3 months leading into the Trials.”
Jager obviously wanted to medal, but he was not going to be devastated by missing the podium today as he was last year.
“I was thinking whatever happens, happens. All I can do is try to have my best race on the day and if I had my best race and it wasn’t good enough for a medal, I was going to be more content with it this year than any other year.”
Of course, Jager did run well — he termed it a “perfect race” and will return to the U.S. a very happy man indeed. But being relaxed may have made it all possible. Even during the race, Jager looked relaxed while leading.
Quick Take : Jager’s accomplishment also represented a landmark achievement for coach Jerry Schumacher
Coach Schumacher has completed the collection. His athletes have medals from World xc, indoor,outdoor and NOW the Olympics!!!@EvanJager
— Shalane Flanagan (@ShalaneFlanagan) August 17, 2016
World XC: Shalane Flanagan bronze, 2011
World Indoors: Ryan Hill silver, 2016 (3k)
World Outdoors: Emily Infeld bronze, 2015 (10k)
Olympics: Evan Jager silver, 2016 (steeple)
Of course, Schumacher still has some goals left to accomplish: guiding an athlete to a major marathon victory and earning a gold medal at a global event. But what his athletes have already accomplished is extremely impressive.
Quick Take #5: Can we get an American record and world record attempt set up now?
There are still four Diamond League meetings left this year and two of them have men’s steeples. Lausanne has one next Thursday (August 25th) and the last Diamond League meet of the year – Brussels – also has won set for September 9th.
If people get organized now and Kipruto and Jager get behind it, the world and American records could both fall. Kipruto ran 8:03 today walking across the line. What makes that extra impressive is that it was hot. We looked at the weather app on our phone when the race started and it said 79 degrees. The official IOC results list the temperature as 32 Celsius which is 86 degrees. During the race, we took a look at the thermometer in the middle of the track in the sun that was showing 36 Celsius – that’s a ridiculous 96 degrees. The conditions were clearly far from ideal.
Quick Take #6: Hillary Bor was pleased to PR, wants to become a medal contender
Bor was pleased with his result today, a PR of 8:22 in the Olympic final, as he knew he simply was not on the same level as the top guys. But the 26-year-old is not content, and expects big improvements next year. Bor is a sergeant in the U.S. Army and had full-time military duties until he made the U.S. team in July. Only then was he accepted to the WCAP program, which allows him to focus on running full-time. Bor, who will remain in Colorado to be coached by Scott Simmons, believes that joining the WCAP will allow him to reach the next level internationally.
“I think with one more year of training, I think I can run with those guys [that beat me today]. Anything is possible. It’s just you need time to really develop. You can’t just go run 40 miles since April all the way last year and try to compete with them. Those guys have been competing at the highest level for the last six years. To duplicate that the last two months, it’s impossible.”
Quick Take #7: Donn Cabral said he had a mediocre season; as for his race today: “There is an explanation, I just don’t know what it is yet.”
Cabral was eighth four years ago in London just months after graduating from Princeton, and though making two Olympic finals is an incredibly impressive feat, Cabral had hopes of finishing better than 10th today.
Cabral said he will have to take some time to talk with coach Frank Gagliano and determine what went wrong today as they look ahead to the remainder of the season and 2017.
There are changes coming to Gagliano’s NJ*NY Track Club next year as the group is relocating from New Jersey to Westchester County in New York to be closer the 79-year-old Gags, who will stay on as coach but not travel as much to big meets such as the Olympics or World Championships.
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