Former Badger scores best Olympic finish by UW track athlete since 1948
Evan Jager’s personal history with the 3000-meter steeplechase dates back only a matter of months. The history made by his performance Sunday at the 2012 Olympics went back much further — to the last time the Games were staged in London.
In just the seventh run of his career in the event, Jager scored a sixth-place finish in the steeplechase at London’s Olympic Stadium, an outstanding performance that saw the former University of Wisconsin runner clock in at 8 minutes, 23.87 seconds. Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya claimed the gold in 8:18.56, with Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France second in 8:19.08 and Kenya’s Abel Kiprop Mutai taking bronze in 8:19.73.
Jager’s finish was the highest by a UW men’s track athlete since Lloyd LaBeach won bronze in the 100 meters at the 1948 Olympics, the last time the Games were held in London. He became the ninth men’s athlete with UW ties to score a top-10 finish in a track and field event at the Olympics — but the first in 64 years.
Jager also posted the best Olympic finish by an American in the steeplechase since Mark Croghan took fifth in 1996. He is just the fourth U.S. athlete to claim a top-six finish over the last eight Olympiads.
The recently-minted American record-holder, Jager looked comfortable in the early stages of the race, which developed slowly. He and American teammate Donn Cabral — who finished eighth — went to the point early and ran 1-2 at the 1000-meter mark.
“I was pleasantly surprised that it went out that slow,” Jager said.
When the trio of Kenyans and Ethiopia’s Roba Gari made expected move to the front, Jager settled in but stayed with the lead pack. When they began their final kick over the last 400 meters, however, Jager couldn’t counter.
“When it got going with two laps to go, and with a lap to go, I just tried to stay relaxed and calm,” he said. “They took off with 400 to go and I just couldn’t respond.
“I’m a little disappointed that I couldn’t respond that easily, but it was a good experience.”
Any race constitutes an opportunity to gain experience for Jager, who raced his first competitive steeplechase in April under the watchful eyes of former UW distance coach Jerry Schumacher and former Badger Pascal Dobert, who was an Olympian in the steeplechase himself in 2000. He won his first-ever attempt at the event, impressively achieving the automatic qualifying standard for the Olympics. His fourth race officially punched his ticket to London with a win in the final at the USA Olympic Trials.
The fifth run of his career saw Jager run 8:06.81 to break the American record just two weeks ago at an IAAF Diamond League event in Monaco. On Sunday, he and Cabral combined to give the U.S. a pair of top-eight finishers in an Olympic steeplechase for just the second time since the Games resumed after World War II in London in 1948.
“It was also kind of cool me and Donn being able to run 1-2, representing the USA for a good portion of the race,” Jager said. “That was a pretty cool experience.”