Stumble after coming over last barrier prevents Jager from becoming first non-Kenyan-born athlete to break 8:00 in steeplechase
July 4, 2015
PARIS — Evan Jager made history tonight. The record books will show he shattered the American record by running 8:00.45 to finish a career-best second in the Paris Meeting Areva Diamond League steeplechase.
As good as that sounds, anyone watching this race will know that Jager in reality was much, much more impressive than that. Jager was just one misstep away on the final barrier from crushing the field and becoming the first non-African-born runner to break 8:00. Jager was just meters away from running a mind-boggling 7:56-7, but he stumbled over the final barrier, fell to the track, was passed by Jairus Birech, who won in a world leading 7:58.83, and was left settling for an 8:00.45 American record. Oh so close. Seriously, during the last 20 years of watching professional track and field, we’ve never seen what almost happened tonight. An American-born runner taking on the very best in the world in a distance race and running away from all of them but one mid-race. It was stunning to see.
The Race (video here)
Full of confidence after his world-leading 3:32.97 1500, Evan Jager took it to Kenya’s and the world’s best steeplechasers tonight. Right from the gun, he meant business as he went with the rabbit.
The first 1k was 2:37.76. An American record attempt was clearly on. Could Jager also become the first non-Kenyan-born man in history to break 8:00?
Four minutes into the race, it was clear that something special was going on as Jager and Jairus Birech, the world’s best steepler over the last two years, had gapped two-time Olympic champ and 2015 world leader Ezekiel Kemboi.
At 2k (5:17.72), it was clear that the sub-8 attempt was on. A few seconds later, Jager sent a thrill up the leg of all American fans as he passed Birech and went into the lead. With two laps remaining, the clock read 5:52. Barring a disaster, the American record and sub-8 seemed likely to happen. On the penultimate lap, Jager started to put a little space between himself and Birech. He led by 3-4 meters at the bell. On the backstretch, it grew. As they duo headed into the final water jump, Jager led by at least 10 meters.
“Holy shit, how fast is he going to go?” American fans were thinking.
Something truly special was going on. Only 12 men in history have broken 8:00 but Jager seemed poised to go way under that.
Only one barrier remained. Then disaster struck. Jager got over the final barrier but as he came down on his right leg, he just crumpled and he went down.
Birech came by and won in 7:58.83. Could Jager get up and still break 8:00 with a fall?
Not quite. Jager got up and finished in 8:00.45.
Results and quick takes appear below.
Before you get to that, you can watch the final lap below with English commentary or the full race (with French commentary).
Full steeplechase result. Birech WL and Jager US record pic.twitter.com/d5JVIm5eQ3
— IAAF Diamond League (@Diamond_League) July 4, 2015
Quick Thought #1: What a brave race by Jager.
Message board poster “cool kid” summed up this performance by Jager just perfectly:
In the live discussion thread on the meet, there also was a great post by another fan. Seriously, if you weren’t watching this race live, it may be hard to understand how powerful it was to see Jager just drive past Birech when the race was already on sub-8 pace. “Well I am” wrote the following:
Well, I am old and sentimental, but I have to tell you, I am weeping. That was going to be quite a moment. Whatever. Jager’s going to break 8:00 and he’s going to be a WC silver medalist at worst.
Quick Thought #2: What about the world record?
As crazy as it sounds, we are now wondering if Jager could get the world record.
Yes, we know Jager fell and we know the race requires you get over 28 barriers and Jager struggled on #28, but as good as he was tonight, we wonder if he could possibly break the world record.
Without the fall, he would have run 7:56-57 (we hand-timed him and he was about 1.9 seconds ahead of Birech entering the final jump). The world record is 7:53.62. But tonight’s race was run in 85-degree weather. Put it in 65-degree weather and a sub-7:55 is definitely doable.
This was a phenomenal performance.
In terms of the steeple, people have always wondered, “What if you put one of the world’s best runners in the event?” Well with his recent 3:32 1500, Jager is one of the world’s best runners.
Quick Thought #3: American fans, enjoy this one.
Although Jager was left with a loss and a just-above 8:00 clocking. American distance fans need to remember this one. Like Chris Solinsky’s 26:59, Ryan Hall’s 59:43, and Jenny Simpson’s 3:59, this was one of those magical performance by a US distance runner that defied expectations.
Quick Thought #4: Our apologies for jinxing Jager
LRC tweeted this out as Jager was on his penultimate lap:
— LetsRun.com (@letsrundotcom) July 4, 2015
Quick Thought #5: Jager Faces The Media Like A Man
After such a heart-wrenching experience, it’d be easy to understand why an athlete wouldn’t want to recount and relive the experience immediately afterwards to the media. But Jager stood around under the Stade de France for around half an hour giving at least three separate interviews. Two of them are embedded or linked to below.
We’ve got 10 minutes of video with Jager above. He said, “I knew we were running fast. I felt the crowd really getting into it, even before I took the lead. I didn’t know what was going on until I looked at the screen with 300 to go and I was surprised to see I actually had a lead on Birech and that got me pretty pumped. The last water jump took a lot out of me…
“At 100 to go I think I saw 7:40 or something like that (on the clock) and I just got really happy and I was like ‘I’m going to break 8,. This is crazy’… My lead toe just barely clipped the barrier and I could not do anything to stop myself from falling… I can’t believe I did that… I tried to get myself up as fast as I could…. to dip under 8 still and I just missed it and I’m incredibly pissed right now.”
Even though he was clearly distraught about the fall, Jager was able to take some positives away from this race talking about the confidence it gives him for Worlds. Before the race he had no idea he was in such good shape, thinking maybe he was in near 8-flat fitness rather than 7:56-57. He came in knowing the rabbits were set to run a fast pace, but had no specific goals or focus on time … the plan was to just “give himself a chance to win the race.”
He says it doesn’t change much for his outlook on Worlds though later this summer as his first priority there will be medaling. Winning will be his secondary goal, but he doesn’t want to jeopardize a medal by going for the win. Jager didn’t want to give away his race plan, but says he thinks waiting until the last 300m will help a lot of the other guys more than him so he’ll probably plan on going farther out than that.
Jager can no longer go under the radar. He said, “I’m a little worried the [Kenyans’] pride will be damaged after this and they’re going to tear my head off at World Championships.”
Quick Thought #6: Jairus Birech Respects “American Guy” Evan Jager
Jairus Birech won the race, but was full of praise for Evan Jager. Birech said, “It was a great time for me, but I feel sorry for American guy; the guy was so strong … everything God knows. … I knew he could win, he was stronger than me, so I feel sorry for him.” Birech had no doubts that Jager had it won saying that going into the last straight he had “given it to the guy” and that he wasn’t surprised because he knew Jager was very strong from racing against him last year.
Asked about what might happen at World Champs, Birech said, “For World Championships now you know this guy is coming, it’s so hard to predict.”
Quick Take #7: Pacer Haron Lagat Thinks Jager Would Have Run 7:55
Kenyan pacer Haron Lagat took the field through 1000 in 2:37 before stepping off and letting Lawrence Kemboi take over pacing duties through 2K. He said he felt bad for Jager and thinks he could have ran 7:55. After this he believes Jager’s name is now in the conversation for the gold medal at Worlds. On the pacing Lagat says he was supposed to go through in 2:39 (rather than the 2:37.76 he ran), but that he “wasn’t forcing it, it just came” and pointed out that he didn’t have a gap on the field, they were right there.
Quick Take #8: Dan Huling 7th In 8:15
Dan Huling was only two seconds off of his PR with 8:15, but was disappointed. He called it a “missed opportunity” as he thought he thought he was running slower so hung on and saved it for a fast last lap rather than going for it mid-race.
Photos here (Screenshots below)
*MB: JAGER FALLS ON LAST JUMP ON PACE FOR 7:55
*MB: Evan Jager is F*cking Brave Beautiful Man
*MB: Evan JAGER on pace for 7:55 steeple before fall. Would CLEARLY beat Galen RUPP at 5000 if they raced – YES OR NO
*MB: Official 2015 Paris DL Live Discussion Thread – Will Jager become first non-Kenyan born to break 8:00? Will W5k WR fall?
— Scott Bush (@scottybush) July 4, 2015