Evan Jager is 32 years old and frustrated at a bad run of luck regarding injuries.
Jager has not competed in a 3,000-meter steeplechase race since August 2018, missing the 2019 World Track and Field Championships with a left foot injury and sitting out the U.S. Olympics Trials currently going on with a calf injury.
But the 2007 Jacobs graduate, the best U.S. steeplechaser in history, has no plans for stepping away from track anytime soon.
“I definitely still feel like I have a lot more running in me, when I get healthy,” Jager said. “I just signed a new contract with Nike this winter, so I have three years on this contract and two option years after that. So up to five years. I fully plan on using those five years.
“I’m still very much mentally in the game, I just need my body to cooperate. Four more years after this year, for sure, then we’ll reassess. Even then, I’d like to run after those five years.”
Jager lives in Portland and competes as part of coach Jerry Schumacher’s Bowerman Track Club. Schumacher recruited Jager to Wisconsin, then, after Jager’s freshman year, invited him to Portland to run professionally for Nike.
Jager ran in the Worlds in 2009, was injured in 2010, but came back in 2011 and began running the steeplechase, a 7 1/2-lap race with 28 barriers and seven water jumps. His 6-foot-2, 145-pound frame seems ideally built for the race.
Jager finished sixth in the 2012 London Olympics and was runner-up in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. His 8:04.28 in Rio is the second-fastest Olympic steeplechase time ever, just behind gold medalist Conseslus Kipruto of Kenya’s 8:03.28.
The Tokyo Olympics last year were postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Jager figured this would be his third trip. But he was battling an Achilles problem in his left leg this winter and on March 1, he decided to take a break to heal.
“I took a month-and-a-half off and during that time I was still confident that if I started running 10 weeks before the Trials, I felt like that was plenty of time to get in good enough shape to make the team,” Jager said.
When the leg still did not feel better at eight weeks, then six weeks, Jager became more concerned.
“Even at that point, I kept telling myself if I was 100% healthy tomorrow I’d be OK,” Jager said. “Up until three weeks before the Trials. At that point, things were going so poorly that I kind of knew it wasn’t going to happen. Based off of how I was feeling running and the results of the MRI and the fitness that I had, it was absolutely not an option.”
Jager first had an ultrasound that indicated the left calf had a tear. Last week, the MRI confirmed that. He thinks the injury progressed out fo the Achilles problem.
“There wasn’t really one thing, it was a combination of the Achilles injury I was dealing with at the start of March and then some really bad compensation patterns because of that.,” Jager said. “It was a long time coming.”
Jager had a PRP (platelet-rich-plasma) injection into the muscle last week to try to speed up the recovery. He anticipates six weeks of recovery, but will be conservative about returning to training.
“I want to make sure I’m 100% healthy before I start running again,” he said. “We’re kind of playing things by ear with the last couple years I’ve had with injuries. I don’t think we’re going to put any hard timeline on this process and make sure I am 100% before I start training.”
Jager has thought about eventually coaching runners some day, but still is invested in his own career first. The Worlds, usually held in odd-numbered years, will run in 2022 because the Olympics were pushed back to this year, then will run again in 2023. In 2024, there will be another Olympics in which Jager hopes to compete.
This week, he will enjoy the Trials as a spectator, along with his parents Joel and Cathy, who traveled to Eugene, Oregon even though their son is not racing.
“I’m trying my best to support my (Borrowman) teammates,” Jager said. “Also as a fan of the sport. I really enjoy watching track. When I can help, I’ll try to help.”