Evan Jager Places Sixth in Olympic Steeplechase; Community Shows Support for Algonquin Native
A crowd of over 300 Evan Jager fans crowded the Buffalo Wild Wings in Algonquin Sunday afternoon to cheer on the Algonquin native during the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Olympics.
While Algonquin's Evan Jager will return from London without a medal, those closest to him foresee more trips to the Olympics in his future.
Jager, a 2007 graduate of Jacobs High School, competed Sunday in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase finals at the Olympics in London, finishing in sixth place with a time of 8:23.87.
Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya walked away with the gold finishing first with a time of 8:18.56. Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France finished second with a time of 8:19.08 and Abel Kiprop Mutai of Kenya will take home the bronze with a time of 8:19.73.
Sunday's race marked only the seventh time Jager has ever competed in the men's steeplechase.
"Considering this is only his seventh time running the steeplechase, you really can't complain too much," said Kevin Christian, Jager's former track and cross-country at Jacobs High School. "He is sixth in the World."
Christian was among 300 area residents, including former track and cross-country coaches, teammates and classmates from Jacobs High School as well as friends of the Jager family, who packed the Buffalo Wild Wings in Algonquin Sunday to show their support and watch a live-streamed broadcast of Jager's race.
Vicki Frantz, marketing director for Buffalo Wild Wings, said the restaurant was at capacity Sunday with some watching Jager compete through windows from the patio area and others even watching on small TVs in the bathroom.
"The point was to get a crowd together to support Evan," Frantz said. The restaurant broadcast an live online broadcast of the event over several of its TVs.
The crowd cheered loudly when the first close-up of Jager flashed across the T.V. screen just prior to the start. As the race got underway, the 6-foot, 2-inch, 146-pound Jager was hard to miss as the only runner with shoulder-length blonde hair.
Jager's dad (Joel), mother (Cathy) and sister (Mallory) were in the stands cheering for Jager Friday, according to the Northwest Herald.
Former Coaches Have High Hopes for Jager
Christian said he urged Jager to give the steeplechase a try following high school. A strong distance runner, Jager could also clear 5-feet, 10 inches in the high jump in high school and was overall, a strong athlete.
"All of these factors just made me think he would be a good candidate for the steeplechase," Christian said.
It took several years before Jager, a distance runner who qualified for the World's team in the 5,000-meter run in 2009, gave the steeplechase a shot.
He ran his first steeplechase race earlier this year, qualified for the Olympics during his fourth shot at the steeplechase at the end of June and broke the North American record in Monaco weeks ago with a time of 8 minutes 6.81 seconds.
On Friday, Jager qualified for the finals in the steeplechase with a time of 8 minutes 16.61 seconds—the second-fastest preliminary time.
The "Kenya-dominated event" is a tough one to break into, said Christian of the steeplechase.
Kenyans have earned gold in the event at the Olympics since 1984, according to Reuters. This year's gold-winner Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya announced he would be retiring from the event to pursue running marathons in the future, according to the Reuters article.
Nonetheless, many of those who made it out to watch the steeplechase Sunday at Buffalo Wild Wings have high hopes for Jager.
"He's a good kid and he really works hard at it. He's got great coaches and he's still young enough...he's only going to get better," said Jason Borhart, a distance coach at Jacobs who coached Jager when he was in high school.
Borhart said this is not Jager's last chance for Olympic gold.
"He'll be back," Borhart said.