Evan Jager is officially the fastest American to ever run the 3,000m steeplechase, and that's despite falling after the final hurdle. The Oregon Track Club runner clocked an impressive 8:00:45, but what you won't see in the record books are the details of the race that took place in between the start and finish line.
The event was held on the Fourth of July at the Paris Diamond League, and it hosted the world's best steeplechasers as a precursor to the World Championships later this summer. Jager and Kenyan star Jairus Birech went head to head from early on in the race, breaking ahead of the pack and setting a pace within the last 900 meters that was a sure bet for a new-record finish. Jager broke ahead of Birech, jumping over each hurdle with increasing speed and seeming ease. He was on mark to be the first non-African to break a sub-8:00 — until he got tangled up on the last 36-inch hurdle with 50m to go.
Jager's trailing foot barely caught the final obstacle, sending him to the ground and giving Birech time to make a quick pass and finish with first place. Meanwhile Jager stood up, collected himself, and sprinted into second with a time just 0.45 seconds off from the sub-eight-minute milestone. He still, however, cut four seconds off his previous American record to prove that Jager is having a noteworthy season, despite the trip-up. "I didn't think I was in that kind of shape," he said. "It's pretty incredible."
After the race, Birech admitted that Jager had put on an impressive performance. "I feel sorry for the American guy," he said in a report from Runner's World. "He was stronger than me. I was beaten." Jager hopes to beat the field again at the World Championships, August 22–30, and will be training at altitude in Utah for the next five weeks in preparation. "Kenyans have absolutely dominated the steeple since they started running," said Jager. "They're extremely proud, train really hard, and a lot of them are really talented. There's a pride thing with them. I'm worried that I kind of damaged that pride tonight and they're going to come back and tear my head off at world champs."