Kusche Happy To Give Back
George Kusche lived up to his own hype. The 20-year-old freshman distance runner from South Africa promoted last weekend’s Frank Sevigne Invitational by saying he wanted to become the first Nebraska track and field athlete to break 4 minutes in the mile on a standard-sized track. He did just that, in front of a big, loud crowd that Kusche had envisioned filling the Devaney Sports Center indoor track. His time of 3:59.61 broke the school record of 4:00.64. Kusche was also the Big Ten Cross Country Freshman of the Year, finishing third at the Big Ten Championships and becoming the first Husker since 2010 to qualify for the NCAA Championships. Husker.com writer Brian Rosenthal visited with Kusche on Monday for this QnA:
BR: How did you discover and come to Nebraska?
George: “Actually, it’s a funny story. There’s a former Husker, Erwin Schmidt, he’s a South African, and he owns a running club in South Africa. I ran for that club. I was struggling with running between 2017 and 2018, so he told me maybe it would be a good idea to go to the NCAA and to America. He spoke to Coach Dave (Harris), and Coach Dave contacted me, and I looked into the program. My major is actuarial science and Nebraska is pretty intense at actuarial science. The actuarial science department is very good. So I thought it was a good fit, so I decided to come to America.”
BR: When you say you were “struggling,” what is your definition of struggling?
George: “I did pretty well in high school, and then I set goals for after high school and didn’t achieve them. I stagnated, pretty much. I got pretty tired of it. I came to America, and I think I’m visibly improving again.”
BR: Did you ever think about quitting and moving on to something else?
George: “Uh, no, it’s engrained in me. It’s too much … it’s a part of my identity. It’s like giving it up would be pretty not very nice.”
BR: When did you start running, and how did you become interested in running?
George: “I tried to play rugby as a young boy. It’s pretty much like football in America. Every young boy wants to be a rugby player in South Africa. So I went to a big high school in South Africa, an all-boys high school. We had trials, and I got ‘F’ team, which is pretty horrible. So I decided to quit that, and we had a local meeting just out of high school, and I won the 1,500 meters, and I liked it. I like the feeling you get from winning. I decided to run, and I ran pretty well and I improved each year, so I just stick to running since then.”
BR: How many different running events did you do in South Africa?
George: “I started out as an 800-meter athlete and up until recently I only did the 800 meters, and about two years ago I started moving up to the 1,500 meters, partly because I’m not fast enough, speed wise, to stick with the 800 meters. Since then I’ve been focusing on the 1,500 meters, but I’ll still say my main event is 800 meters.”
BR: Is cross country a sport in South Africa, or is that new to you here?
George: “It is a thing but it’s not nearly as big as in America. It’s not as popular there, not a lot of money invested into it. It was a big surprise to see how much people enjoy cross country. I started off and I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be horrible.’ On the surface, it doesn’t sound like a very pleasant experience. I thought, ‘This is going to be a heck of a grind.’ But after my third or fourth race, I started enjoying it. I started liking the feeling you get. It’s definitely tough, but it’s a different kind of feeling than track. I still like track more, but cross country really isn’t a bad sport.”
BR: What made you want to promote your race this past weekend so much?
George: “At the end of the day, track and field is entertainment. It’s a sport. It’s entertainment. You want a fan base. You want people to see what you’re doing. There’s really no point in trying to run if nobody cares about it. I know running in America is a big deal, so I thought, ‘Let’s promote it. Let’s get publicity for Nebraska distance and track and field.’ It’s unbelievable what Nebraska does for me, so I thought maybe there could be a way I give back.”
BR: From fan turnout to the hype to your sub-4 mile, how pleased were you with Saturday?
George: “Oh, for sure, I was very pleased. It was packed. Even more so, the enthusiasm of the crowd. I mean, you can have a big crowd, but if they’re not enthusiastic about it, it’s not really a big crowd. That was one of the biggest experiences I’ve had in my life. People were standing up, they were cheering. It really felt great. … There was a lot of pressure. It was highly publicized, and if you say you’re going to do something, you want to do it, especially when it’s your first time. I knew if I didn’t make it, people wouldn’t take me serious in the future. The race was a grind. It wasn’t easy. You don’t necessarily enjoy it the whole way. It gets tough. And you really have to work until the finish line. You can’t slack the last 100 meters. That’s when you lose time. So it’s a grind, but when you cross the finish line it’s a pretty good feeling."
BR: What’s been your culture shock coming from South Africa to Nebraska?
George: “My culture back home is pretty similar to the culture here in Nebraska and America. There are minor differences, but fundamentally, I’ll say it’s pretty much similar. The one thing I’ve noticed is people always ask, ‘How are you?’ without expecting a response in America. Numerous times I’ll say, ‘Good, and you?’ and they don’t reply. That was a culture shock.”
BR: What do you want to with your major?
George: “I want to work as an actuary one day. I like mathematics, so I’d like to get a job as an actuary in America. I’d like to stay in America.”
BR: Before you came to Nebraska, had you ever been to America?
George: “No, I came on a visit in 2017, and that was my first time. I’d been to Europe before this, and I thought it was going to be similar to Europe, but it’s so much different than Europe. Everything is bigger here, just bigger and better. That was a pleasant surprise.”
BR: What’s your family background? Any brothers or sisters? Athletic backgrounds?
George: “I have three older sisters – 28, 29 and 33. My oldest sister has two kids, my youngest sister is an architect, my middle sister is a doctor and my oldest sister is a former teacher. They did netball, which is also a sport we do in South Africa, but they never did track and field. My mom did some marathons when she was younger, and my dad played rugby.”
Reach Brian at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.