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Syracuse Track & Field: Sub-4 Mile Isn't the Ultimate Goal Anymore

Roger Bannister was the first runner to crack the 4-minute barrier in the Mile, but the Syracuse Orange Track & Field milers who have run a Sub-4 mile know that in today's NCAA that accomplishment isn't enough. Let's see what they think about going Sub-4 and Syracuse's emergence as national power on the track.

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The 4-minute mile was long regarded as unattainable, and as detailed in the book "The Perfect Mile", it became the focus of the top runners of the early 1950s. The book goes into great detail on the drive to be the first to make running history, which was finally accomplished on May 6, 1954 when Roger Bannister became the first to crack the 4-minute barrier, beating John Landy and Wes Santee to the mark.  Since that day runners across the globe have committed themselves to joining that group, and even those who reach the mark find it hard to replicate as close to 50% of Sub-4 milers are unable to improve upon their time once they reach the mark.

As of last week, this is what the numbers looked like:

Before 2015, no Syracuse Orange runner had run a sub-4 minute mile while still in college (Head coach Chris Fox and former SU runner Kyle Heath are on the list of Sub-4 milers). In the last two years however, four athletes have reached that hallowed ground: Martin Hehir, Justyn Knight, Adam Palamar, and Joel Hubbard. A few days before the ACC Indoor Track Championships, which the Syracuse went on to win the team title,  I had the opportunity to speak with Knight, Palamar, and Hubbard about their race at Boston University back in January, where they went under 3:59 in the same heat.

The Newest Members of the Sub 4 Club from @FloTrack

The Newest Members of the Syracuse Sub 4 Club- Adam Palamar, Joel Hubbard, and Justyn Knight. Photo from @FloTrack

I thought that running a Sub-4 mile might feel like a bigger accomplishment but after talking with them I realized that to these guys the goals are a bit different. While they certainly feel satisfaction at being part of this group, they all had the NCAA meet on their minds. Their perspective becomes a bit more obvious when you look at the NCAA Leaderboard in the Mile this season and see that 35 collegiate runners broke the four-minute barrier.

As two of the 16 entrants in Friday's heats, the Syracuse runners will be looking to continue to lay the foundation of the Orange program as more than just a long distance/XC program, even as the rest of the country gets faster in the event.

"I think the two of them (Knight and Hubbard) along with me, we've put some good work in to put Syracuse on the map", said Palamar, who transferred from Tulsa to Syracuse to be closer to family. "Breaking four to outsiders, yeah is still a big deal, but to us, we're just trying to get to NCAAs."

Hubbard took a more diplomatic approach telling me what he thought Coach Chris Fox would say. " I would say we are a distance program that can run the mile."  When I asked Knight he said, "Coming into this season after we won NCAAs for cross country, we were well aware of how good of a group of milers we had here..we knew we had something special. We were well aware of what we could do." Coming off the NCAA Cross Country Championship in the fall, Knight believes the team is using that to continue to improve, "You can just see that a lot more of the guys are a lot more confident than they were before."

The fact that both Knight and Palamar are Canadian might explain their thoughts about the mile. They grew up racing only the 1500m and Knight's first time ever competing in the mile was last winter at Penn State when he ran 3:59.51.

Palamar told me that going Sub-4 was "kind a of a big deal to my parents' friends" while Knight said he "didn't know much about the history of Sub-4 before I came to Syracuse." He added that he didn't feel the pressure last winter because "I felt like I was in Sub-4 shape.....This year I knew I was in better shape...and it meant a lot for me to do it in a Syracuse uniform" (Since he was a redshirt last year, this year is Knight's first season of indoor track competition, which is scary for a lot of Syracuse's competition).

It was quite the opposite feeling for Hubbard, who narrowly missed the mark last year, running 4:00.18. He told me, "It was a lot of weight off my shoulders....going into that race there was a lot of pressure and it was very relieving to get that." The Sub-4 mile at BU seemed to free Hubbard as his next time out saw him run even faster. "I think realizing that it is just another time, it was easier. I wasn't as anxious in my next race."

Now that Hubbard and Palamar have made it to the NCAA meet, the goal shifts from hitting a certain time to finishing in a scoring position. You can follow our coverage later this week for updates on them and the four other Syracuse athletes heading to the NCAA Indoor Championships.

Syracuse fans might also want to keep an eye out for a potential 4x1500 Penn Relays match-up with the Georgetown Hoyas some time this spring. The Hoyas did the Orange one better this season by having four runners under 3:59 and it left me to ask the Syracuse guys if a match-up with the Hoyas would be something the Syracuse runners would welcome.

Palamar: "I think we want to run with the best whether it would be Georgetown or Oregon, so having a competition like that would be exciting."

Hubbard: "I think we like to race and it would be a good environment to have that Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry resurface."

Knight: "I hope we do a relay. That would be awesome. I know we are running a relay this Spring and I hope it's at Penn"

I think a lot of Syracuse fans would love to see the Orange battle the Hoyas at Franklin Field this April. First, however, we'll be watching the team this weekend at the NCAA Indoor Track Championships.