LINCOLN — The hardest thing about running a mile race in less than four minutes, Nebraska freshman George Kusche said Saturday after becoming the first Husker runner to do so, was keeping cool in the week before he did it. Staying “mellow.” Not letting anticipation or nerves get the best of him.
“That’s when you choke,” Kusche said.
So the South African had just two things in his mind as he took eight laps around the Devaney Center track. Run as hard as he could and trust that a speedy pacer, who led the race for the first 1,000 meters before purposely leaving the track, had Kusche running lap splits that would add up to a sub-four-minute mile.
It did. With a raucous, on-its-feet crowd cheering the final lap, Kusche “gave it my all” and finished in 3:59.61. While previous Huskers have run the mile in less than four minutes, they did so on oversized tracks with elongated straightaways. Kusche is the first Husker to do so on a standard track.
And here’s the thing: He barely won the race. Missouri’s Kieran Wood nearly caught Kusche at the tape. Wood ran the mile in 3:59.64. A middle distance race rarely gets closer, and Kusche appeared to lean at the finish line for the win.
Wood’s run helped push Kusche said, he said.
“When you’re tired, and you think ‘run comfortably,’ a guy breathing down your neck gives you that extra motivation,” Kusche said. “I gave it my all, but you can always dig a little deeper. On that last straightaway, I looked at the time I knew it was going to be under four, and then I saw a guy coming from behind. I really didn’t want to finish second, and those last 50 meters, I ran to win.”
Kusche thus took over the school record — held for nearly 33 years by Jean Verster, another South African, who logged a four-minute mile in 1986.
Kusche gets little time to celebrate; he has a big meet next week at the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Arkansas. As fast as he was Saturday, it’s still only the ninth-fastest time in the NCAA this year.
If he were still in South Africa, he said, he’d have a beer, because the legal drinking age is 18. That’s what he did when he ran a sub-four-minute mile last year. But, in the United States, Kusche is still underage.
“So I guess I’ll have a burger!” he said.