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Ryoma Aoki won the elite men’s 3000m steeplechase at the Mt. Sac Relays Thursday in the time of 8:33.33. Finishing second was American Evan Jager, in his first race in four years. The meet record holder clocked an 8:34.89 performance to take second. The 33-year-old national record holder has run the 3000msc as fast as 8:00.45 at the Paris Diamond League meet in 2015.

For a first race back, it was a strong performance for Jager, who owns Rio Olympic silver and a London World Championships bronze in the event. The 2022 Eugene World Athletics Championships qualifying time is 8:22.00. The benchmark looks tough on paper, but Jager should round into form quickly. At the Relays, he took off and led the race until the final water jump which is where Aoki took over for good. The event, however, would seem surreal to Jager considering his US record and the meet record at 8:26.14, which he also owns.

Aoki, a 24-year-old Japanese runner, owns a personal best of 8:20.70 from June 2021 in Osaka.

Finishing in third place was Clement Duigou who clocked an 8:36.25 performance. The Frenchman is 25-years-old. Mt. Sac was a new lifetime personal best for him.

After the race, Jager told the Orange County Register, “You know, it’s been so long that I didn’t really know what to think about kind of going into the race,” Jager said. “I wasn’t super anxious. I wasn’t overly nervous, I was not like super excited, it’s not like … like a little surreal like I didn’t actually believe that it was happening. I just wanted to get through the race and kind of just not really worry about anything until after I actually crossed that finish line and got an entire steeple under my belt.”

Jager had suffered a series of injuries including torn muscles tissue in one of his calves. At age 33, it is a great time for a comeback. He can look forward to the Eugene World Championships happening this summer in Oregon as well as the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Full results from the Mt. Sac Relays are here>>