Four months ago, Evan Jager didn’t know he was about to make a dramatic Steeplechase breakthrough at the 2016 Summer Games. Winning a silver medal on the sports world’s biggest stage, Jager not only made an indelible mark on his personal resume, but he also pushed U.S. Steeplechase into the limelight. As the first American male to win a Steeplechase Olympic medal in 32 years, Jager ran a season-best 8:04.28 and finished one second behind Kenya’s Conseslus Kipruto, who set an Olympic record. Read about Jager as a force in distance running, and the mental strength it took on his journey to the Olympic medal stand.
Rio: What was it like to compete in the Olympics and score the silver medal in steeplechase?
Rio was an absolutely unbelievable experience. My team and I stayed in a hotel outside of the Olympic Village so I was able to stay very relaxed the entire week leading up to my race, because we weren’t in the middle of all the excitement in the Village. The race itself feels kind of like a dream now. It played out almost exactly how I had pictured it, going with myself taking over the lead with more than half the race to go. I felt totally in control of the race and felt very strong and comfortable when I was in the lead. Getting over that final barrier on the last lap and realizing that I was going to win the silver medal was just a dream come true. I just felt pure excitement and happiness to have finally achieved what I knew was capable of.
What was the night before the race like for you? Do you have any pre-race rituals?
The night before the race was just a totally normal night for the most part. I went out for dinner with a couple of teammates and then went back to the hotel room and relaxed for the rest of the night. The only thing that was different was that I prepared all my competition gear to be ready to go in the morning because I needed to leave the hotel somewhat early.
Your coach, Pascal Dobert, worked on your mentality for race day. What was going through your mind in Rio?
Pascal actually helped me out a ton even before we got to Rio, which was perfect because I really needed it at the time. We sat down about two or three weeks before the race and he basically told me to stop thinking about medaling at the Olympics. Only focus on the things you need to do leading up to the race that will help you race well (like recovery, eating right, going to bed on time, taking care of your body, etc.) and stop thinking about the medal. He said that if I kept obsessing over the medal and forgot about everything else I would probably not medal. If I focus on doing everything else right and doing the right things in the race before the last lap, I would probably be in a good position to win a medal. That took a lot of mental stress off of me and allowed me to relax a ton the last couple weeks before the race.
What was the atmosphere like before the start of the final?
The atmosphere actually was pretty subdued in the stadium before the race. Because we raced at 10:50 am and 11:50 am both days, the stadium was pretty empty for both of my races. It was pretty quiet especially for an Olympic final. But, I think the lack of energy from the crowd may have actually helped me to stay more relaxed!
You won the first U.S. men’s steeplechase medal in 32 years – can you describe that feeling?
That is pretty cool to hear people say, I’m not going to lie, but I think what was even cooler was how many medals the U.S. mid-distance and distance athletes won. My only hope with winning the first men’s steeple medal in 32 years is that the U.S. gets more talent to try out the steeple from now on.
How did you celebrate afterwards? Did you have family and friends with you?
Yes, my mom, dad, sister, wife and mother-in-law were all there. We didn’t do anything crazy. It was just nice to spend time with them and share the moment with them. We did do a few touristy things the days after the race but no partying, unfortunately!
What are you doing in the off-season? Where will we see you race next?
This has been a crazy off-season for me with getting married in Sweden and moving into a house that my wife and I bought earlier this year. I have just now gotten to a point where I feel like I can breathe a little bit and relax. Aside from the craziness in my life, I have enjoyed eating whatever I want, drinking a few beers and putting on a couple extra pounds to get me through the winter. I won’t be doing any races until the indoor track season.
Congratulations on your marriage! Can you share some details on the big day?
Thank you! It was just an amazing day. We had about 90 guests at our wedding in Sweden and I think 35 of them were Americans, which was really cool to see so many people travel so far for our wedding. It was a pretty young crowd for a wedding so it was very high energy and a lot of fun was had! During the night I remember thinking to myself, “I wish we could just move everyone into this venue and all live here forever.” It was just a ton of fun!
What are your goals for 2017?
Next year, I would like to pick up right where I left off this past year and try to contend for the gold medal and the World Championships in London. I would also like some more chances to run some really fast times next year as this last year was basically only about doing well at the Olympics.
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