Lefty Olympian Jagers Returning To Right Track

Five-time U.S. discus Ranker Reggie Jagers, sidelined in ’23, aims to make up for Tokyo Olympic disappointment. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)


That’s what Reggie Jagers says. “For some reason my car is not working. I’m waiting for a tow truck. So I guess it would be a perfect time to talk.”

Indeed. We had some serious catching up to do with the world’s best left-handed discus thrower, who made the Tokyo Olympic team but then disappeared completely off the radar after struggling in ’22. Now he’s back at the top of the U.S. list with the longest lefty throw in world history, his 226-11 (69.16) at Ramona, Oklahoma, a few weeks ago. Wind or no, that, incidentally, was the longest American throw in the last 14 years, a piece of trivia that might be concerning for his competitors at the upcoming Olympic Trials.

The journey on which the Ohio native has been traveling starts, for our purposes, with a torn pec muscle the year before the Olympics. “I had major pec surgery. I got a lot of calls and messages from support systems in the sport and family and they pretty much thought my time was over.”

It wasn’t. “I got back to elite-level throwing, made the Olympic team, competed really well in America, and didn’t do what I wanted to do at the Olympics. I felt like I had limited training, because the main goal was coming back from the pec surgery.”

He didn’t reveal his surgery until after he had made the team. “I just didn’t want to talk about it beforehand, and no one even knew I tore my pec because of how I competed that year. But, yeah, after the Olympics, it became apparent, like, ‘You need to fix your injuries.’”

Jagers, who won the USA title in ’18, also decided, if he wanted to return to the Olympics and redeem himself, that he had to find a coaching situation where he could grow.

“A lot of times I was coming up with my own training program, and I’m doing a lot of research. I’m learning from Ryan Crouser how he coaches himself but I haven’t done the sport as long as him, so I felt like I needed more guidance.”

During the ’22 season, new complications emerged from a hip surgery. “I trained for 6 weeks and I competed for 6 weeks.” He threw 203-11 (62.16) for 4th at USATF. He might have been able to compete at Worlds had he made the qualifying standard, but alas, 5th-placer Brian Williams got that spot instead. No matter. “I just kind of took that down time to just make my next decision, my next move.”

Surprisingly, he moved toward the gridiron, though he hadn’t played football since high school. “Towards the end of 2022, I healed up a little bit more, did more rehab, and I got invited by the XFL to go to the Combine, and I got MVP. I ran a 4.58 [40 yards], I triple broad jumped 33-11. They were very surprised at how well I did. I had flown in the night before, and I guess I performed well at the last minute.”

There were pro teams that wanted him to become a football player… with a catch. “They wanted me not to go to the next Olympics. I wanted redemption. I wanted to compete well at the Olympics. I didn’t want an injury or to feel like I wasn’t prepared. That was a non-negotiable for me.”

The next call came from the WWE. “I think they probably saw me from social media, or the XFL Combine.” They offered to train him in the art of wrestling, and even put him on a show covering the whole process.

In November ’22 Jagers decided on another route, signing with the U.S. Army’s World Class Athletics Program. “I had those other two offers on the table, and it just made sense to go into the Army because they have health care, there’s full sponsorship, they’re paying for travel, coaching, massage, medical, and then there’s retirement, and also medical retirement, insurance, all that good stuff, your GI Bill, your VA. I knew all about the benefits, because I have family members who are in the military. I knew with my business degree, I could definitely use those perks to better my life in the future.”

Still, Jagers wasn’t 100% back decided about his future yet. The idea of wrestling still held some appeal. “I’m probably about 10 weeks into the training with military, and I take a leave of absence to go film the show with the WWE, because they had one tryout that was in LA, and it was going to be on TV. I went and filmed that TV show. And at the end of it, they’re like, ‘This is a 9-to-5 job. If you join, we want to groom you, teach you how to wrestle, teach you how to act, teach you all these different things.’ But I feel like the pay wasn’t necessarily on par, because it would have been the same thing I would have made with the Army.

“And there was a lot of uncertainty. They brought in Ric Flair, they brought in a lot of the top guys, I could see how banged up they were. And, you know, I’m a big dude flying around. There were people [in wrestling] who broke their necks, so I kind of felt that could be something after track that I could go back into.”

Jagers refocused on his military career. He earned top scores in basic training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and his command sergeant major gave him his challenge coin. His status as an Olympian helped. “Even in basic training, I’m signing autographs. I would have random people recognizing me from social media, saying, ‘Aren’t you an Olympian? What are you doing here?’ And I’m 6-2/260 pounds, you know, I’m the biggest dude there.”

He enjoyed the training, which he finished in April ’23. “’Cause you’re working with people who want to help you, who want to make you the best you, and then you’re also making them the best of them.”

The WCAP people told him he would not have to compete that year. “They said, ‘Find your coach, find where you’re going to live. And you just worry about track. You don’t have to worry about making money or going to the U.S. Champs.’” And so Jagers trained for the Olympic year.

He chose to work with Martin Marić, the Croatian Olympian and former NCAA discus champ for Cal who coaches the throws at USC. They’ve known each other since Marić coached at Virginia Tech and one of his throwers then, Filip Mihaljević, beat Kent State’s Jagers for the NCAA title. “He’s a great coach. He’s a great person. He’s foreign too; they coach a little different. They’re not necessarily trying to get you super-strong. They’re trying to coach on technique and that’s something I felt like I needed.”

The new chapter began. “Everything was supposed to be a Cinderella story,” the 29-year-old says. However, in his first meet back, he hurt his back. An MRI showed a bulging disc. “I slept weird,” is how he says it happened. “The Army give me doctors, masseuses, physical therapists, and they’re all working to help me get back in shape and by any means to be able to represent the Army and make the Olympic team.”

He competed at the Ramona meet where Mykolas Alekna broke the World Record, finishing a well-back 15th at 207-9 (63.33). But here’s the thing about that kind of wind: when all the right-handers are flying their discs in the best wind they’ve ever experienced, the lone left-hander has to suck it up. “That meet was like a 5-meter deficit for me; everyone else PRed by 2m.”

He expounds on that: “Actually being a left-handed world record holder, I’ve been having a tough life. It’s a tough career. Like you show up in great shape and then the wind is knocking your disc out of the sky, but it’s helping the right-handed athletes just fly further. That’s just frustration, but I learned how to train harder, train better, do more reps and just have better technique.”

One takeaway from Ramona: Jagers noticed multiple discus rings there and he talked with director Caleb Seal about setting up a competition that could benefit lefties. It couldn’t be arranged for the World Record weekend, but Jagers finally got his chance on April 27. He threw his 226-11 (69.16) on his first round and closed with a 222-10 (67.92), the third-farthest throw of his career. “It really let me realize the wind is such a big factor. I’m not in the best shape I’ve ever been in. And I threw 69. Imagine if I was in 70-meter shape. At least I know I have one meet where I can have a little bit of help. And then we get back to the drawing boards and we really do it in the stadium.”

That’s Jager’s focus now: the Trials and, ideally, the Games. “I’m getting my back worked on every day to make sure that I keep getting healthy because we’re trying to peak in 8 weeks, you know? Right now, my technique isn’t where it needs to be. I don’t have a lot of reps, but I have maturity and experience.”

Did he miss competing in his year away? “I just didn’t like seeing people win. I’m like, ‘I should be winning. You know, I should be there.’ So instead of saying ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda,’ I came back to the sport to see what could happen. And so far, it’s definitely been humbling.”

The tow truck arrives. We wrap up the conversation. He pauses, then adds, “I really do wish I was right-handed. But at the same time, being left-handed has made me a better thrower, a stronger competitor, you know?”

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