The days are counting down fast to the Olympics, and the local big-hair runner says he's ready.
Evan Jager of Algonquin proved as much, setting an American record when he finished third in his first international steeplechase race Friday at the Herculis meet in Monaco. His time of 8:06.81 bested the previous mark by 2.01 seconds.
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"I thought it (U.S. record) might have been a possibility, judging on how workouts have been going," Jager said in a video interview.
Jager, 23, a 2007 Jacobs High School graduate, has continued working with the Oregon Track Club since winning the steeplechase June 28 at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials June 28 in Eugene, Ore. His time in Monaco was 11 seconds faster than he ran in the Trials to qualify for the Olympics.
"I have to make sure I'm sticking to the same schedule that I'm used to," Jager said earlier this month, looking ahead to London. "The biggest hurdle will be to not psych myself out."
Physically, Jager's biggest hurdles are 36 inches high or 12 feet long. The steeplechase race challenges athletes to complete a 3,000-meter obstacle course with 35 barriers -- 28 hurdles and seven water jumps.
A hot topic of discussion had been his thick, long hair, which hangs just above shoulder length. When he runs, he keeps it out of his face with a sweatband.
Runners and their coaches put a lot of time into thinking of new ways to run faster -- tight spandex clothing, lightweight shoes and, normally, very short hair.
He admitted shaving his head could possibly cut seconds off his already impressive times but, for him, his hair is a sense of comfort.
"I think I'm running fast enough to not cut it," he said.
The Olympics pose a completely new experience. "It's going to be a lot different than I'm used to," Jager said. He said he wants to keep everything as normal as possible, including his hair.
Others are not so sure.
"My coach, right now, is asking me to cut it more than anyone I have ever talked to," Jager said, adding he's heard people criticize him for his hair.
With the Olympics starting this week, it doesn't appear track fans will see any drastic change in Jager's hair, especially since superstition has convinced him to keep the hairstyle and he set the American steeplechase record three days ago.
Superstition and appearances go hand-in-hand in other sports, too. Hockey players bring out their best facial hair during playoff season; baseball hats are turned to rally caps during a comeback.
Jager has rocked the look since high school, and in a way it has become his identity. When he runs, fans can always spot him in the pack because his hair flows through the wind.
He is sure of one thing: "I'll keep it long for the rest of the year," he said, though he eventually plans to cut it.
As for the race, Jager said he is ready.
"I kind of like winning," he said. "This is the goal, ever since probably sophomore year of high school when I first started to get really good at running."
Round 1 of the steeplechase is Aug. 3 and the finals two days later, and Jager hopes he makes history for himself and his country. "I'm ready to run fast," he said.
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