ROME, SEPT. 6 -- Somalia's Abdi Bile, a senior-to-be at George Mason University in Fairfax, took command of a strong field with a spectacular finishing kick today and easily captured the 1,500-meter run on the final day of the world track and field championships.

With about 70,000 spectators crowded into Rome's Olympic Stadium at the Foro Italico sports complex, the eighth day of competition also featured three victories by U.S. relay teams and the expected dominance by world-record holder Said Aouita of Morocco in the 5,000 meters.

"There were few surprises for us today," said U.S. Coach Russ Rogers. "We expected to win the relays today. If we hadn't, we would really have been in trouble. But our team was tired from a long season and didn't do as well as it might have."

The U.S. team -- men and women -- ended up third in the meet with 19 medals (nine gold, five silver, five bronze). East Germany had a total of 33 medals (11 gold, 11 silver, 11 bronze) and the Soviet Union was second with 27 medals (seven gold, 13 silver, seven bronze).

Adding to the African emergence with Bile's and Aouita's victories was the triumph of an unsung Kenyan named Douglas Wakihuru, running only his third marathon. He covered the 26.22 miles in a respectable 2 hours 11 minutes 48 seconds, ahead of Djibouti's Houssein Aahmed Saleh, 2:12:30, and Italy's much applauded and cheered Gelindo Bordin, who gained the bronze in 2:12:40.

The reigning marathon world champion, Robert de Castella of Australia, failed to make the top 20.

Although Carl Lewis won his second gold medal (in addition to his silver in the 100-meter dash) today by coming from behind to anchor the U.S. men's 100-meter relay victory, the true heroes of the day were Bile and Aouita.

Bile, 24, about to enter his senior year as a marketing major at George Mason, won the 1,500 in a modest 3:36.80 after his chief rival, Britain's ailing Steve Cram, the reigning 1,500 world champion, folded on the final turn after leading most of the race.

Second was Spain's Jose Luis Gonzalez in 3:38.03 and third was Jim Spivey, 27, an Indiana schoolteacher and 1982 NCAA champion, in 3:38.82. Cram ran eighth in 3:41.19.

"I didn't think it was a very hard race, but it wasn't so easy either," said Bile, a farmer's son from the town of Lasanod, Somalia, who for 4 1/2 years has been a scholarship student in Northern Virginia.

"I had expected the times to be very fast in the race because of the times in the qualifying heats," he said, "but when I passed the first lap and saw we were only running 63 or 64 seconds, I knew it was going to be my race because I knew I was faster than anyone in the last 200 or 300 meters.

"My only concern, when I figured it was going to be a tactical race, was not to be spiked by staying out in front," said Bile. "I placed my kick when I felt it was time, and when I passed Cram, I knew I didn't have to look back for him anymore."

Cram, after losing the lead and realizing he wouldn't even get a medal, virtually trotted in. "I did everything I could, but there was nothing there," he said. "I was very, very tired at the finish."

Bile said he had spent only about a month in serious training for the race because of past injuries. "I have a problem training," he said. "I am a fragile man and I can only run 50 miles a week in three-week bursts before something happens to me. So I have to be careful.

"I was injured two months ago with an Achilles' tendon and then I had a back problem. I have really only had four weeks training for these championships. I didn't go crazy. And it's paid off. It's incredible."

Bile, who has twice been NCAA champion, broke new ground with his victory. He won Somalia's first gold medal at either an Olympics or world championship and ended Britain's 11-year domination of the 1,500 at major championships.

Bile said after the race that although Africans are good natural runners as history has shown, he felt his time in Virginia had been very helpful in improving his form because of the facilities and coaching.

"I chose to go to George Mason because a friend from home said it was a good school and had a good coach {John Cook}," said the lanky Somali, who ran his first track race at the age of 18. "I went there and got a scholarship. I found it was a good place, just what I wanted."

The man Bile said he considered a hero, Aouita, was even more impressive in the 5,000, even if his 13:26:44 was far off his world record of 12:58:39.

"I came out late, as it was sufficient to win," the man from Kuneitra, Morocco, said. "I looked often toward the stands to see where my friends were located and winning was as easy as sitting in a movie theater."

The pace of the race was set by John Ngugi, a Kenyan civil servant who had raced impressively in the qualifying heats. Ngugi led for most of the race with Aouita running close behind.

Just before the final lap, Aouita passed Ngugi, who rapidly faded. Aouita coasted home with Portugal's Domingos Castro second in 13:27.59 and Great Britain's Jack Bucker third in 13:27.74. Britain's Steve Ovett, once the record holder, was 10th and Ngugi 12th.

Aouita was delighted with his 38th consecutive victory over the last two years, at distances from 800 meters to 10,000 meters. He quickly issued a challenge to Bile.

"I am ready to race Bile, even tomorrow," Aouita said. "I'm not worried about my opponents. When I run, they should worry about me."

In the relay events today, the U.S. women -- Alice Brown, Florence Griffith, Diane Williams and Pam Marshall -- got off to an impressive start by winning the 4x100 meters in 41.48.

The U.S. men quickly followed up, Lee McRae, Harvey Glance, Lee McNeil and Lewis taking the gold in the 4x100 in 37.90.

The U.S. men -- Danny Everett, Antonio McKay, Roddie Haley and Harry (Butch) Reynolds -- also took the 4x400, in a 2.57.29.

The only relay in which the United States failed was the women's 4x400, won by East Germany in 3:18.63. The Soviet Union won the silver in 3:19.50; the U.S. quartet of Diane Dixon, Valerie Brisco, Denean Howard and Lil Leatherwood-King the bronze in 3:21.04.

Britain's Fatima Whitbread won the women's javelin with a meet-record throw of 251 feet 5 inches.

And in the final event, Sweden's world-record high jumper Patrik Sjo berg won the gold with a first jump of 7-9 3/4. Soviets Igor Paklin and Gennady Avdeenko cleared the same height, but took more tries.