American steeplechase record holder Evan Jager will defend his Olympic Trials title in the event next month in Eugene, Oregon. Although Evan is a heavy favorite to make his second Olympic team, he’s taking nothing for granted. Evan’s qualifying round in Eugene is scheduled for July 4, the date on which last year he set his American record of 8:00.45.
You said earlier this year you really care about only two races this year, the Olympic Trials final and the Olympic final. What are your takeaways from the build-up races you’ve done?
Evan Jager: I feel really good about where my fitness is at right now going into the Olympic Trials. I was able to win the steeple that I ran at Oxy against most of my competitors that I will be racing at the Trials, which is obviously a good thing. What I was most happy about with that race was that I was able to win by kicking fast over the last 400 meters, which is a tactic that isn’t my greatest strength.
In the 1500-meter and mile races that I ran, I was able to run 3:38 and 3:54, respectively, while not feeling totally sharp. I believe that I will have the ability to run faster in the later stages of the season.
As the American record holder, what percent fitness do you think you need to be in to make the team?
I don’t discredit the strength of my American competitors in the steeplechase, especially when an Olympic team spot will be on the line. My teammate Dan Huling placed higher than me at the World Champs last year, for example. I will definitely be bringing my best on the day to ensure that I make that team.
More broadly, what are the keys for you in making the team?
I think that in order to make this team I will need to come into the Trials healthy, strong and mentally prepared to compete at the highest level. I will also be doing my best to not stress out too much and keep mentally and emotionally steady over the course of the week.
Your Trials qualifying round will be only your second steeple of the year. Will you use it to practice tactics/technique?
No. Most likely the only thing I will try to focus on in the prelim will be staying relaxed and conserving energy for the final while being technically sound over the barriers and water jump.
At the Trials four years ago, you were new to the event. What are three important things you know now about steepling you didn’t know then?
- I know how my body handles different racing situations like a fast early pace or a slow tactical race with a kick.
- I know my competitors and their strengths/weaknesses much better after racing them for the past four years.
- I know myself as an athlete better, both mentally and physically.
Did you feel more, or a different kind of pressure than before the 2012 Trials, given the difference in your experience then and now?
It’s definitely a different kind of pressure. In 2012 I was much more nervous going into the Trials for a few reasons. First, it was my first Olympic Trials and my first opportunity to make an Olympic team. Also, the steeplechase was still so much of an unknown event for me that I still didn’t know completely what my potential was or how good at the event I was going to be.
This time around, I am much more confident but there is also more pressure to make the team because I have had so much success and my goals have grown to be so much greater the last four years. It would be a much bigger letdown if I didn’t make the team this year compared to 2012.
Who will make the women’s team?
I don’t know who will make the women’s team. I could make an educated guess but that doesn’t really matter. There is a reason we have the Olympic Trials. Nothing is given, you have to earn your spot on that team.