June 25, 2017
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Stop us if you’ve heard this one before – Evan Jager is your US national steeplechase champion.
The 28-year-old Jager employed some new tactics, waiting until two laps to go to take the lead, but the result was the same as Jager made himself a perfect six for six in USA steeples as he blitzed the final lap in 56.70 to win in 8:16.88. Behind him it was an absolute battle as three men were in the hunt for the two remaining spots on Team USA. American Distance Project athlete Stanley Kebenei was the best of the rest, taking second in 8:18.54, as Rio 7th placer Hillary Bor finished in 8:18.83 to just barely beat out a diving Andy Bayer ([8:18].90), who finished 4th at USAs for the fourth time.
There were some questions surrounding Jager, last year’s Olympic silver medallist, coming into this one as he had only raced once this outdoor season (a [3:43], eighth-place finish in the 1500 at Payton Jordan on May 5). But there are no questions now, as Jager’s speed over the final lap was very, very impressive.
This race started off at a pretty honest pace from the start as Brian Shrader lead through the first few laps and Jager was content to sit around middle of the pack. US Army WCAP runner Haron Lagat took over the lead and exchanged it with teammate Hillary Bor a couple of times. Just before three laps to go, Shrader fell hard to the track going over a hurdle, but it didn’t affect the leaders Lagat, Bor, and Jager. Jager went to the front with one and a half laps to go. Jager immediately started to ratchet the pace down as they went from running 69-second laps the previous two to a 63. Jager led at the bell and was followed closely by Bayer, Stanley Kebenei and Bor. The race for top 3 was down to these four men as Lagat was already about two seconds back and the gap was only growing.
With 200m to go Jager was starting to gap the other three as Kebenei followed in second, Bor third and Bayer fourth. Kebenei, who had fallen in big races the last three years — 2014 NCAAs, 2015 USAs, 2016 Olympic Trials — had a rough landing on his final water jump, stumbled, and almost lost his footing, but he stayed on his feet. By the time they entered the final homestretch Jager looked to have the win locked up, but it was anyone’s race for the remaining two spots.
Kebenei was in second off the final turn and would only widen that gap as he approached the finish. Bor and Bayer were very close behind him, and Bor was able to get a gap coming off the final barrier. Though he did move in front of Bayer, blocking his path over the final meters, there was no foul for obstruction as Bor already had a couple of steps on his rival at the time.
Results and analysis below.
|1||Evan Jager Nike / Bowerman TC||[8:16].88|
|2||Stanley Kebenei NIKE / American Dist. Proj.||[8:18].54|
|3||Hillary Bor U.S. Army||[8:18].83|
|4||Andy Bayer Nike||[8:18].90|
|5||Haron Lagat U.S. Army||[8:25].73|
|6||Donn Cabral HOKA NJNYTC||[8:25].75|
|7||Michael Erb Ole Miss||[8:26].75|
|8||Donnie Cowart Saucony||[8:31].46|
|9||Mason Ferlic Nike||[8:34].54|
|10||Travis Mahoney HOKA NJNYTC||[8:34].97|
|11||Brian Shrader Saucony Freedom TC||[8:39].33|
|12||Michael Jordan American Distance Proj.||[8:42].26|
|13||James Hurt III Team Run Eugene||[8:55].02|
|14||Dylan Blankenbaker Oklahoma||[9:03].49|
Quick Take: Evan Jager Tries a New Strategy
In most of his previous USATF wins, Jager has pushed from home over the final mile. Today, Jager said he didn’t want to lead for more than the final 2 laps. He briefly took the lead with 3 laps to go, but backed off the pace to let Haron Lagat take the lead.
“I knew it was going to be a little bit windy. I knew the talent level has gotten better and better. Last year was really, really hard. I pushed from 1800m out. It was mentally and physically exhausting and Hillary was still right behind me. So I wanted to try something a little bit different out. Not have the mental stress of leading from so far out on my head. Let everyone else worry about when I was going to go,” he said.
Jager feels he has a better mental mindset on the final lap than in the past. “The biggest thing for me is changing my mindset going into that last lap, not dreading the hurdles while running really fast. If it does come to a kick, try and make it a little longer instead of one burst with 300 to go,” he said.
Now Jager turns his attention to getting ready for the World Championships. He said he always wants to keep improving and since he was the Olympic silver medallist that means to “be in contention for the win for sure.”
Jager will run one Diamond League steeple before Worlds. He’s targeting Monaco.
Then he’ll have to get into the right mindset to end the Kenyan domination of the steeplechase.
“Last year the biggest thing that helped me was my mindset going into the championship race. Being mentally relaxed, not putting a lot of pressure on myself, being able to run easy, to run comfortable, to run my own race. To not be worried about a move constantly and when a move comes, to [try to] muscle it.”
Jager last year may have had the proper mindset at Olympics, and today’s race showed he’s got some great physical tools as well.
QT: Poor Andy Bayer / The Third Time Most Definitely Wasn’t A Charm
Andy Bayer just can’t catch a break at USAs. For the third straight year Bayer has finished in the dreaded fourth place making him the first runner off Team USA. Add this to his fourth place finish in 1500 at the 2012 Olympic Trials, and this is becoming an unfortunate trend for Bayer.
“I was confident with my kick. Maybe I made a tactical error going for the win, trying to go with Evan. Maybe I should have relaxed. I’m tired with getting fourth place. It sucks. Fourth one in five years. Eventually I think I’ll get on there. [I’ll have to] wait another 2 years,” he said.
Bayer had every reason to be confident in his kick. His 58.48 final last lap was faster than any final lap since Evan Jager started winning USAs in 2012. The only problem was three guys ran faster than that today.
“It’s cool that the US steeplechase is this good. I’ll pick myself back up. I always do. That’s the reason I’m still here because I can handle this stuff. It’s just frustrating right now,” he said.
*MB: Andy Bayer…
QT: A much stronger Stanley Kebenei finds redemption
In the last three years, Kebenei had fallen in his biggest race of the season. But since joining Scott Simmons’ American Distance Project, he’s bumped up his miles in a big way — from 60 mpw in college at Arkansas to 105 — and now routinely runs grueling workouts. In college, he would run 8-10 x 400. Now he does 25-30 x 400. That gave him the strength he needed to close in 57.98 for the last lap — even though he basically ran his PR today in hot conditions (he missed it by .02).
Kebenei was a mixture of relieved and overjoyed in the mixed zone after finally making a team (and staying on his feet) when it counted.
“This is what I wanted in my life,” Kebenei said. “It didn’t come last year, it didn’t come in 2015. But I think God’s time is the right time and I think this is the right time.”
QT: Haron Lagat Frustrated He Can’t Run for America
Lagat, who has lived in America for 14 years and became a US citizen in October, is frustrated that while he ran the US Championships, he can not represent the US abroad. Lagat submitted his switch of allegiance from Kenya to the US to USATF in the fall. USATF did not submit it to the IAAF immediately, and then the IAAF put in a freeze on all athletes switching countries so Lagat is left unable to represent the country he most associates with, the US, despite never having represented Kenya in international competition.
It makes no sense to us. Lagat lives in the US, owns a house here, and pays taxes. He’s never run for Kenya. Would Lukas Verzbicas or Alberto Salazar (both born outside of the US) be prevented for running for the US if this had occurred a few years earlier?
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