Why Have Three Of The BTC’s Biggest Stars – Shelby Houlihan, Lopez Lomong, & Evan Jager – Only Raced Once Total In 2021?
By Jonathan Gault
May 17, 2021
Today marks 32 days until the US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin in Eugene, Ore., yet two of the biggest stars in American distance running have still yet to race in 2021. The Bowerman Track Club’s Shelby Houlihan, the reigning US 1500m and 5000m champion, and Lopez Lomong, the reigning US 5000m and 10,000m champion, have both been conspicuously absent from the spring racing scene. And the most credentialed long-time member of the Bowerman Track Club, seven-time US steeplechase champion Evan Jager, has raced just once this year, running 7:42 for 3000m in February and hasn’t finished a steeple since 2018 (he did rabbit teammate Sean McGorty for two kilometers at Mt. SAC on May 9). Jager needs to hit the Olympic standard of 8:22.00 if he is to have any shot at making his third straight Olympic team.
This has prompted more than a few questions in the running world, such as: Why haven’t they been racing? Are any of them planning on racing anytime soon? And is it time to panic?
The second query is the easiest to address, and the answer is yes. Bowerman TC’s hometown of Portland is set to host two elite meets in the coming weeks — the Portland Track Festival on May 28-29 and the Stumptown Twilight on June 3 — and it is likely that all three of Houlihan, Lomong, and Jager will race in at least one of the two meets.
As for why they haven’t been racing: all three have been battling injuries in recent weeks, and with a meet as important as the Olympic Trials on the horizon, the athletes and Bowerman coach Jerry Schumacher have been proceeding with an extra degree of caution.
Houlihan has been training well and was almost a last-minute addition to the Sound Running Track Meet last weekend, but ultimately opted against it, according to her agent Stephen Haas, as she has been battling a nagging injury that flares up after hard sessions. Haas did not disclose the nature of the injury, but Houlihan was dealing with a plantar issue during the team’s Flagstaff training camp earlier this year.
Haas said Houlihan hasn’t 100% decided on when she will first race, but said he would be surprised if she didn’t race at least one of the Portland meets. Houlihan’s last race came on December 4, a comfortable 15:02 5000m win at the Sound Running Track Meet in California.
What event Houlihan will run isn’t clear either. Houlihan already has the Olympic standards in both the 1500m and 5000m, but the finals of the two events will be held just 35 minutes apart at the Trials, making the double impossible. As a result, it is possible Houlihan could make her 10,000m debut — something she considered over the winter — at the Portland Track Festival to provide insurance should disaster strike in the 1500 at the Trials (the 10,000 final is five days after the 1500 final).
“Certainly a possibility if they want a back up event,” Haas said of the 10,000m, adding that Schumacher would have the final call.
Lomong, who has not raced since July 2020, was scheduled to make his season debut in the 5000m at the Track Meet on Saturday night but wound up scratching due to a hamstring strain. According to a source close to Lomong, training has been going very well, but Schumacher did not want to risk anything by having the 36-year-old try to race. He will likely open up at one of the two Portland meets.
Of the three, Jager is the one whose training has been most impacted by injury; he is currently dealing with an issue in his Achilles/calf area. But Jager said that his biggest injury — the foot issue that derailed his 2019 season — is behind him and that by comparison, managing a soft tissue injury is “a gift.” Like his BTC teammates, he is proceeding with caution, which is why he chose not to race the full distance at Mt. SAC.
“I had some Achilles issues this winter and spring and it just really, really delayed my training a lot more than I was hoping for, and so I’m just kind of getting in the swing of things now and still having some minor, lingering issues with the Achilles area,” Jager said. “So I haven’t done a ton of steeple work yet and I just didn’t want to go full-on 100% into an 8:20s or 8:10s steeple race for basically my second steeple session in three years. I’m just trying to be smart and take things step by step.”
That said, Jager says he felt good pacing the first two kilometers at Mt. SAC, and is excited to run the steeple at the Portland Track Festival on May 28, where he will try to hit the Olympic standard.
“Nothing’s ever definite with Jerry until probably like five days before the race,” Jager says. “But that’s the plan.”