George Kusche, the redshirt freshman on the Nebraska track team with an ambitious but attainable goal of being the first Nebraska runner to accomplish one of the revered milestones in the sport by running a four-minute mile, isn’t easing into his first attempt at doing so as a Husker. Kusche is kind of calling his shot, and is doing so in just his fourth meet as a Husker.
For a few weeks the program has been promoting that Kusche will attempt to break the four-minute mile Saturday. It will come during the second day of Nebraska’s biggest home meet of the indoor season, the Frank Sevigne Husker Invitational at the Deavney Sports Center. High school teams have been invited, and they’ve lined up a pace setter to try and push Kusche to a great race.
Several factors will go into if, and when, Kusche can accomplish his goal, but the Nebraska coaches think the confident South African is the guy who can do it.
“I think George has the ability to be the best miler that Nebraska has ever had,” said Gary Pepin, who has witnessed a lot of the program’s history as a coach since 1981.
The mile is scheduled for about 2:50 p.m. and the coaches are hoping for a large crowd. Kusche wants that, too. Where he’s from, track is a big deal, with maybe 10,000 fans for a big meet.
“I prefer running in front of big crowds because it gives you purpose so you just don’t run for the birds, you actually run for something. It motivates you to run faster," Kusche said.
The school record in the mile is 4:00.64, set in 1986 by another South African, Jean Verster. Two Nebraska runners have run under four minutes, but it came on oversized tracks and isn't recognized as an all-time top 10 time.
It wasn’t long after Kusche came to Nebraska that he started to think about the record.
So David Harris, who coaches the distance runners, came up with a plan to have Kusche ready to run fast.
“I think George and I came to the conclusion that we want to promote it,” Harris said. “You don’t see that in a lot of guys. A lot of guys are kind of scared when you start talking about something, and say don’t tell anybody. And George is not that way. He said, ‘Coach, if we’re going to do it, let's tell people.’”
Many years ago, the race distances for track were changed from yards to meters, so the 880 became the 800, but the mile stayed the same.
“Because of the history of it and the significance of that particular event, they kept that event,” Pepin said. “So still the guiding figure there as to whether or not you’re pretty good or not in the mile at this level is can you run under four minutes in the mile. And if you can run under four minutes in the mile, you’re pretty doggone good.”
Even the casual fan knows there is something special about the four-minute mile, Harris said.
“If they’ve never seen it in their life, it’s kind of thrilling to see the 3 go up there (on the scoreboard),” Harris said.
At the start of the season Kusche ran 4:01 in the mile for his part of a distance medley relay team. He’s previously run 3:58.9 in the mile.
On Saturday there should be a good field of runners to push Kusche. Georgia, which won national championships last season in women’s indoor and men’s outdoor, Stanford and Drake are among the 35 teams in the meet.
Also, Harris has lined up a former college runner, Lucas Koch, a 4:03 miler at Kansas State, to set the pace for the first 1,000 meters of the race, and then drop out after about five of the eight laps. The goal is to run the first 800 meters in 1:56.
“I’m hoping that it will be George at the end in the last two laps, and he’s going to go,” Harris said. “I don’t think he’s going to tighten up, it will just be if he can push himself at the end the last two or three laps, and I think he can do it.”