Even when Jesse Garn was just a freshman, his coaches saw this coming a mile away.
On Sunday afternoon, the junior middle distance runner became the second Binghamton University athlete in program history to break the four-minute mile. His time of 3:59.37 at the Boston University Last Chance Meet earned him first place and put him beside Erik van Ingen as the only other Binghamton runner to cross the finish line in under four minutes.
“We knew right away as a freshman that Jesse had a really bright future,” Binghamton assistant coach Annette Acuff said. “It’s been in the works the last two and a half years, working with him to develop.”
Shattering the four-minute mile was certainly atop Garn’s list of goals this season, but earning the victory on Sunday carried an even greater significance in his mind.
“To break it is certainly a huge accomplishment for myself and for the program as well,” Garn said. “It was even more surreal that I won the race on top of making my mark. It was just a good feeling all around, even though I threw up for probably an hour afterward.”
Villanova’s Robert Denault was the runner-up on Sunday with a time of 3:59.52. Despite the fraction of a second difference between Garn’s and Denault’s finishes, Acuff said the lack of disparity between the two times is misleading.
“The results are kind of deceiving because it looks like it was [Garn] and [Denault] the whole time,” Acuff said. “But Jesse was probably a good 20 meters ahead of [Denault] going into the last 400. [Garn] started to tighten up a little bit in the last 100 meters or so, and so [Denault] had a chance there to close the gap there but Jesse was able to hold him off.”
Garn’s time is the 18th-fastest at the NCAA Division I level this season. While only the top 16 clocked times that qualify for the NCAA Championships on March 13-14 at the University of New Mexico, Garn still has a chance to earn a spot when the final list is revealed tonight if five of the top 16 performers don’t declare entrance in the event in order to focus on another one at the NCAA meet.
Van Ingen, a former four-time All-American, was Binghamton’s first runner to break the four-minute mile. His time of 3:59.41 at the 2010 Penn State National Open was the first of three instances in which van Ingen would post a time under four minutes. At the 2012 Millrose Games, he finished with a program-best time of 3:56.37.
As a senior, van Ingen left a meaningful impression on then-freshman Garn. Racking up accolades and posting record-setting times with each passing meet, van Ingen was a natural role model for Garn. Acuff said she knew from the get-go that the potential was there, and with van Ingen serving as an example of what a runner could accomplish in the Binghamton green and white, it was only a matter of time before Garn found similar success.
“[Garn] was fortunate to come in at a really good time,” Acuff said. “When Erik van Ingen was graduating, I think that really kind of set the stage for him. Going forward and seeing what Erik was able to accomplish throughout his career certainly created a great vision for Jesse and for our program over for the next few years to come.”
Regardless of whether or not Garn qualifies for the NCAAs, he’ll still have an opportunity to race this weekend, as the Bearcats are scheduled to compete at the ECAC/IC4A Indoor Championships at Boston University. No matter where Garn races next, his goal will remain the same.
“Qualifying [for the NCAAs] would definitely be the icing on the cake. It’s been my biggest goal this season,” Garn said. “But whether it’s at the NCAAs or IC4As, I’m always just trying to improve my time. There’s always room to improve.”