At the start of the indoor track season, Abdi Bile Abdi and his coach at George Mason, John Cook, realized the Millrose Games in New York would fall on the same weekend as the Bud Light Invitational at George Mason's field house.
The situation wasn't ideal, but Abdi decided to do what any world-class runner with a bit of school spirit would do. He will compete in both.
Tonight at Madison Square Garden, Abdi, who ran 3:58.77 to finish second to Marcus O'Sullivan in the Olympic Invitational mile last weekend at the Meadowlands, will run in the most famous mile on the indoor track circuit -- the Wanamaker Mile.
He'll be joined by such luminaries as Eamonn Coghlan, the world record holder (all indoor records are unofficial) in the indoor mile (3:49.78) and the only man to break 3:50 indoors, fellow Irishmen Ray Flynn and O'Sullivan, and Americans Sydney Maree, Steve Scott, Jim Spivy and Mark Fricker.
Then on Sunday, Abdi will be back at George Mason to run the 1,500 meters, in which he has the fastest time by an East Coast collegiate athlete (3:34.24) this year. Although the field will be slightly more anonymous, seven of the 10 entries have broken 4 minutes in the mile. Those same seven also have run 3:40 or better in the 1,500 -- a rough equivalent of a 3:58 mile.
The situation isn't optimal, because a runner performs best with rest. But given the circumstances, Abdi found he could not pass up either race.
"If he wins the Millrose, he's King Kong," said Cook. "But Abdi's such a good kid, he also wanted to run in front of the home crowd. But we're not going to hold back Friday night."
Although the closeness of the events could hurt Abdi's chances, particularly in the Mason meet, the schedule helped the university attract some of the top competitors on the indoor circuit.
"Expenses are minimal bringing them down from New York," Cook said. "The only way we're goint to get those kind of guys is if we hook up with the Millrose."
George Mason pays the athletes' expenses and per diem. The Millrose Games, which has a budget of $185,000, also pays appearance fees, which the "amateurs" place in trust funds, and bonuses for world records.
Aside from the 1,500, the other highly competitive races at George Mason should be the men's 500 meters, which will have Danny Harris of Iowa State (the Olympic silver medalist in the 400 intermediate hurdles) and Thomas Johnson of Florida State; the men's 1,000, with Georgetown's Miles Irish; the men's 800, with Ibraham Okash of George Mason, and the women's 500, with Morocco's Nawal El-Moutawkel, who won the gold medal in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles in the 1984 Olympics.
Cook says the Wanamaker Mile was a factor in Abdi's decision to run the 1,500 -- or "metric mile" -- instead of the mile Sunday afternoon.
"To make a long story short," Cook said, "we're running [the 1,500] because Abdi didn't want to run the mile . . . "