It's rare in sports when something works out -- a championship for a team, an individual accomplishment. It's a time to celebrate, and that's what George Mason University did yesterday. A news conference was called to reintroduce their star middle distance runner, Abdi Bile. Yesterday, the tall, thin senior from Somalia was introduced as Abdi Bile, the world's 1,500-meter champion.
Dressed in a gray suit and red tie, Bile (pronounced "Billy") took the happy occasion in stride, just as he did his easy victory at the world track and field championships 10 days ago in Rome. He didn't celebrate in any special way then, and hasn't since.
"Everybody's different," he said. "I'm not that kind of person who just goes wild. I just felt it was the greatest moment that ever happened to me. I have been doing the same things I was doing before."
Bile's next goal is the Olympic 1,500 meters next year in Seoul, South Korea, and he'll be concentrating on that and not competing his senior year for George Mason. "He could do both, but I think it's risky," said Bile's and George Mason's coach, John Cook. "The NCAA season really is not conducive for international training. We want to give him the chance to be the best."
A two-time NCAA champion, and a marketing major, Bile, 24, will remain on athletic scholarship. He'll train regularly with George Mason runners. But the 6-foot-2, 148-pound Bile, frail and often injured, will not be required to go through the rugged indoor and outdoor NCAA seasons and have to reach peaks for those meets. Rather, he and Cook will pick a few spots for him to perform leading up to a busy schedule next summer in Europe, always with Seoul as, in Cook's words, "the priority."
For now, Bile will take a month off to recover from his 15 races since May and plan his Olympic attack. One of the prime obstacles in any chase for Olympic gold in the 1,500, and a man Bile probably will race somewhere before Seoul, is the world's top middle-distance runner, Said Aouita of Morocco, who won the 5,000 in Rome and immediately challenged Bile at 1,500.
"The guy's good," said Cook. "He's the Olympic champion. We're just coming onto the scene."
Aouita and Bile ran 1-2 in the 1,500 meters in Oslo July 4. Bile, who played mostly soccer in his homeland and did not begin running until he was 18, respects Aouita, but many believe that in time he'll be able to beat Aouita. Bile isn't saying, exactly.
"I'll line up and do my best," is the way he put it.
That's what he did in Rome. It was a tactical race -- Bile came from behind with a rush, running the last 400 in 51.0 to beat reigning world champion Steve Cram and finish in 3:36.8 before 70,000 spectators in Olympic Stadium. Last Friday in Brussels he won a 1,500 in 3:31.8. He said it "doesn't matter" to him, he can run out front or from behind. "I will do what the situation calls for." He just likes to avoid trouble -- shoving in close quarters, or possibly getting spiked.
But it was Bile who was disqualified from competing in the final of the Olympic 1,500 at Los Angeles (where he carried the Somalian flag) after being judged to have cut off a runner in a semifinal heat. Bile believes he was treated unfairly and insists, "What makes me mad is, still I don't know the reason why I was disqualified." That's one reason he hopes to do well at Seoul. Another is the fact he is world champion. With that title, he said, "to prove yourself is very important."
Bile thanked his coaches and friends at George Mason, saying, "Being anywhere, you can make it. But being here was a big help to me. When I got here, I was just a beginner."
With Seoul in mind, Cook said, "We have to start over again."