July 18, 2017
Evan Jager, America’s Olympic silver medalist in the steeplechase, was the featured guest on LetsRun.com’s Track Talk podcast on Tuesday afternoon. Jager called into the show from his European training base in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Jager, who won his sixth straight U.S. title in the steeplechase this year, is arguably America’s best hope for distance gold at next month’s World’s Champs in London. He will race for the only time between USAs and Worlds in Friday’s Herculis Diamond League meet in Monaco where he’s scheduled to face reigning Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya and fellow Americans Stanley Kebenei and Hillary Bor.
After USAs, an IAAF biological passport anti-doping spreadsheet was released by the Fancy Bears hacking group, and Jager was one of 14 athletes who next to their name under the column “Hematological Expert report opinion” it had the words “Likely doping”. (In Jager’s case the full words were, “Likely doping; Passport suspicious: further data is required; Passport suspicious: further data is required.”) Jager quickly issued a statement forcefully denying any wrongdoing writing, “I have never taken any banned substance and have always prided myself on doing things the right way and being a clean athlete…I have never and will never break or try to bend an anti-doping rule,” but this was the first time that Jager publicly discussed the hack and the suspicions people are going to have against him as a result of it.
We spoke to Jager for almost an hour and recommend you listen to the entire podcast as he was open about his reaction and response to the Fancy Bears hack. We’ve embedded the entire interview at the bottom of this page but you can also just click here for an MP3 file (try this page if you are having trouble). But if you can’t listen right now or don’t have time, we’ve transcribed some of the highlights below.
A rough timeline of the conversation:
0:00 to 28:00 — The Fancy Bears hack and Jager’s response to it
28:00 to 32:20 — Jager’s current fitness and his goals/strategy for Friday’s race in Monaco
32:20 to 36:10 — The emergence of Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali and the key to celebrating in the steeplechase
36:10 to 41:00 — Training under Jerry Schumacher and a recent workout he’s run
41:00 to 50:50 — Jager’s American record 8:00.45 at the 2015 Paris Diamond League, missing out on a medal at 2015 Worlds and how a change in mindset set him up to medal in Rio
50:50 to 55:40 — Married life, life as a homeowner, and what it’s like to be an invited athlete in Monaco
55:40 to end — Jager’s odds to win gold at Worlds and the Brojos’ ill-fated bet on Michael Johnson at the 2000 Olympic Trials
On how he heard the news about the Fancy Bears hack (3:40): “Naturally, I woke up and the like first thing that I did was I went to LetsRun just to figure out what exactly was going on”
I woke up to a text from my agent. I don’t remember exactly what it said but it was something along the lines of, hey, there’s been a Fancy Bears hack with a list of athletes listed as potentially doping and your name was on it, give me a call as soon as you get this.
Naturally, I woke up and the like first thing that I did was I went to LetsRun just to figure out what exactly was going on because I knew that you guys would have all the information. So I went on LetsRun and looked at the article, looked at the two documents that were on there and my first response was just shock. I was really confused. I had no clue how I could have had a blood test that could have been deemed suspicious and labeled as “likely doping.” I was shocked. I never thought I would have seen my name on a list associated with potential dopers. Aside from shock, my first feeling toward everything was sadness because I didn’t really know what was going on and I didn’t know what was going to happen.
On how he would have reacted to the hack had his name not on the list (6:10): “Honestly my first thought would have been, oh yeah, like everyone on there is doping.”
I only really remember Asbel [Kiprop]’s name being on the list other than my own. I don’t remember who else was on the list. I was so consumed with myself being there that I didn’t really care to think about who else was there. But if I had just seen the list with a bunch of random athletes, honestly my first thought would have been, oh yeah, like everyone on there is doping. Unless it was an athlete, most likely an American athlete that I knew, that I just assumed there’s no way that they’re doping.
…I know it’s, I guess, wrong of me to say that people shouldn’t feel that way about me now because that’s how I feel, but I honestly think that if there was an athlete on there that I knew or really thought was doing things the right way, I don’t think it would have changed my perception on them.
Jager Reveals What the Sketchiest Thing He’s Done In Terms of Anti-Doping
Around the 10:45 mark, we asked Jager what he considered to be the sketchiest thing he’s done in his career in terms of anti-doping or supplements. Jager, in his response at the 13:15 mark, said that during the spring of 2012, he used an inhaler — which he had a prescription for — when he was suffering allergy symptoms before the Olympic Trials in 2012. Jager said he used it “maybe five times” before deciding he didn’t need it and hasn’t used one since.
On what he’s heard from the IAAF since the hack (16:22): “They kind of checked me off the list saying that I was clear.”
“Initially, I wanted to wait [to say anything publicly]. My agent, Tom [Ratcliffe] had been in contact with an IAAF official that understood the situation and the case and Tom talked to him and got a little more information about what was all going on and why my name might have popped up on there. I wanted to wait until I got a written response from the IAAF official about it but it’s taking so long, so I might as well just talk about it.
So I’m hearing this secondhand through my agent. I’m waiting to be in contact with the official but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. So I don’t know exactly what’s happened but the way it was explained to me was that the test somehow was from June and not either February or September, and it was June of 2016 (in Jager’s hacked profile, 9/2/2016, is listed under “Last ABP test Date” which would be either February 2nd or September 9th depending on which dating system they were using). And I think I’m pretty sure I was — yeah, I was in Park City, Utah, at that time. So obviously up at altitude, and if you know anything about altitude training, you know that over the course of four-ish weeks, your blood values are undergoing a lot of changes to kind of compensate from the lack of oxygen that you’re getting and you start getting more red blood cells. And there was something within my blood on that day of the test, which I think was in the middle of the camp, that kind of triggered a response on the test. And that initial test is kind of done via computer, the way that I understand it, and the computer reads the results. And if the blood values are, I think, outside of some designated range, it automatically spits out a red flag and says these blood values are not normal, it’s likely suspicious and this person is likely doping, depending on whatever the blood values are.
And then once those results get flagged, it is then sent to a scientist to look over, to read, to make sure something wasn’t wrong with the test or just to kind of look over the results and compare the flagging to the actual levels of blood. And then if it’s still deemed abnormal then it’s sent to another scientist and they look at more information to compare. So it might even be a third step where it’s sent to a third scientist.
Basically with my case, it was run through the initial test and a computer flagged it. And that little line that you saw on the document with my name on it where it said blood values abnormal, suspicious levels, likely doping, is what is spit out by the computer. And after it was sent to that first scientist, he looked it over, I think maybe looked at my past blood results, and he waved it off saying, yeah, this is normal for this athlete at this amount of weeks at altitude. There’s nothing to see here.
So after that first stage, it was sent to someone and he cleared it, which is why apparently I never heard anything about it. The IAAF or WADA never contacted me and they kind of checked me off the list saying that I was clear.
So that’s how it was explained to me. And I’m trying to get a written statement from someone within the IAAF so I can try to publish that.
On the emotional fallout of having his name linked to doping (24:00): “Everyone was looking at me like they thought I was dirty at that point in time and it was a really shitty feeling.”
It distracted me for a little bit. The first, I’d say, two or three days after it came out, I was pretty sad and just a little depressed. We’re staying up in St. Moritz in apartments and it was just me and four girls — Emily [Infeld], Colleen [Quigley], Courtney [Frerichs] and Shelby [Houlihan]. And they had their own apartment and I had my own apartment. And for a lot of those first few days, I was just sitting around the apartment by myself being really sad. And it sucked.
Being in St. Moritz, this is where a lot of people come to train at altitude at this time of the year and everywhere, obviously, there’s tons and tons of runners, elite runners, and I’m just running around St. Moritz by myself. And even if they weren’t doing this, I just felt like everyone was looking at me like they thought I was dirty at that point in time and it was a really shitty feeling.
…After probably three days, I didn’t really have any new information. And I stopped going to LetsRun to see what people thought about me and that actually helped. The first couple days, I was in this mindframe where I wanted everyone to come out and say no, there’s no way, I don’t think he’s doping, I think he’s clean. And I wanted everyone to feel that way so I went on the messageboards and I was looking for that stuff. And obviously 50% of it is people saying, Oh I know he’s been doping the whole time! and the other 50% are like Oh, no way, no way he’s doping. So I kind of had to shut off LetsRun for a little while and not let it consume me and not think about it every day.
Then I just kind of got over it and I had a lot of really positive support from, obviously, teammates but other US runners that I’m closer with. Even a few of the international athletes that are up here. The Robertson twins from New Zealand. are up here and they came up to me in the grocery store and they were both like Hey, we totally trust you, there’s no way you should have been on that list. Stuff like that was really reassuring and it helped lift me up.
On his hopes and expectations for Friday’s race in Monaco (28:30): “I’m looking to get up to the front and go for the win”
I’m looking to get up to the front and go for the win. I think my fitness is really good right now. Obviously [I] ran 8:16 at USAs with a fast las.t lap, probably my fastest last lap ever (56.70) and was able to beat Stanley Kebenei, Andy Bayer and Hillary Bor, who have all run, I think they’re all in 8:10 to 8:15 shape. So I know that I’m in at least that good of shape at USAs and coming back up to altitude at St. Moritz, get a little more fit, more training in. And I feel like I’ve just, since early May, been making steady improvements on my fitness each week, basically.
So I’m feeling really good. And I think my gameplan is probably just to go out near the front, probably, hopefully in the first two or three guys behind the rabbit and not really stress too much about running fast times, just kind of try my best to stay relaxed until the final couple laps and just go for the win.
On Olympic champ Conseslus Kipruto’s injury and whether it affects his mentality going into Worlds (30:25)
I’m expecting him to get healthy enough to be able to run London and be in good shape. I think that’s, for me, the smartest way to go about mentally preparing for London, is just assuming that he’s going to be there and be really fit.
On Soufiane El Bakkali celebrating with 150 meters to go in Rabat on Sunday (34:27): “I loved it.”
I loved it. This is the first year of Rabat having a Diamond League meeting (Editor’s note: It’s actually the second) and this year and last year is his coming-out party and his home meet. You’ve gotta do that. You’re taking down a stellar field at your home meet, you’re kind of on fire this year, I thought it was great, great for the fans. And obviously they got a huge kick out of it. They started going nuts as soon as he started celebrating. My thing was, just don’t fall. Especially in the steeple, make sure you’re staying focused over those barriers. But if he feels good enough to celebrate, go for it.
On whether he’d try to celebrate in the same way if he was to win the Pre Classic next year (35:30)
If I’m ahead by like 20 meters or whatever he was ahead by, I might a little bit. I probably wouldn’t do it until after the water jump for sure. And I know if I did it before the last barrier, [coach] Jerry [Schumacher] would probably rip my head off. So it might have to wait until after the last barrier.
On if he ever goes back and watches his American record from Paris in 2015, where he missed sub-8:00 after falling on the final barrier (41:18)
When I really want to get depressed, I watch that race.
(Editor’s note: We’ve watched it a ton)
On how a change in mindset just before the Olympics set him up to medal in Rio (46:53): “The best way to go about medaling is to stop thinking about the medal and start thinking about what you need to do in order to get yourself the medal.”
After [the 2015 Worlds in] Beijing (where Jager finished 6th), I felt like I should have medaled and I messed up and the reason that I didn’t medal was because of something that I did. And I took that to heart going into Rio and I really, really, really wanted to medal. And I was thinking about it every single day training for the 2016 season. It just kind of consumed me and I thought that wanting a medal more than anyone else was going to bring me a medal. And I kind of trained that way, with that mentality, trying to do every single little thing right and just being very focused on it.
And [I] got to the latter part of the season kind of coming out of the Trials last year and [Bowerman Track Club assistant coach] Pascal [Dobert] sat me down and he said to me, he’s like, Hey, I see how bad you want this medal, I know Beijing really hurt you last year, but I want you to stop thinking about medaling. And this was probably two weeks out from Rio. And he’s like, The more you think about something and obsess about something, it’s just going to drain your energy and you might not be doing things the right way in order to actually get you that medal. And I think the best way to go about medaling is to stop thinking about the medal and start thinking about what you need to do in order to get yourself the medal. Think about being relaxed going into the final. You can’t carry too much stress or can’t worry about it too much. Just think about being in good position with a lap to go and if you’re in the best position with a lap to go, then you’re obviously going to give yourself the best chance of medaling.
Listen to the podcast in either of the players below or simply by clicking on this link for an MP3 file:
LRC archives: And while we were finding the link to Jager’s run in Paris from YouTube, it recommended the video below of Jager to us which was quite relevant. In 2015 at USAs, after Jager had earlier in the year run 3:32.97 for 1500m, we asked Jager about what supplements he’s on and what he had to say about people who might think he’s doping because he’s so good.