It was a neat little track meet in the beginning, something for George Mason University coach John Cook to use as a recruiting tool and to give his athletes a chance to compete against a higher caliber of competition.

"An experiment," Cook called it.

He had gotten the idea for the meet during his years as coach at Edison High School when he enjoyed taking his athletes to the CYO indoor meet at Cole Field House. But when that meet died in the 1970s, local athletes were left without a nearby meet.

When Cook moved from Edison to George Mason in 1978, he decided that, given the chance, he would like to resurrect an indoor track meet. First, there had to be some groundwork laid. Cook had to convince George Mason officials of the need for an indoor track facility, then, that a meet could be a fundraising tool.

Four years ago, George Mason played host for its first meet. Last year, for the third meet, 3,000 people showed up, and Cook had a few world-class athletes. Then last summer, he crossed the final hurdle, partly out of good planning and partly out of good luck.

The result of all this is Sunday night's Mobil One Invitational, a meet that could draw 5,000 spectators, will be nationally televised on ESPN and will include such world-class athletes as Greg Foster, Evelyn Ashford, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Roger Kingdom, Renaldo Nehemiah and Steve Scott.

"I thought we were semi-legitimate last year," Cook said. "It was a good show and {we} had a good crowd. But this year, it's the real thing."

Interest has increased because this is an Olympic year, but Cook said that can make his job of acquiring talent more difficult.

"Athletes are more selective in an Olympic year," he said. "Also, it's harder to get them to show up. One little ache or pain, and they're going to scratch. In a year like this, they're not going to take a chance. One thing no one is going to take a chance on is looking bad later, and by that, I mean in Seoul. At this time of the year, everyone thinks they're going to Seoul."

To attract the athletes, Cook said he has had to deal with agents, athletes, schedules, coaches and friends. The appearance money for the world-class athletes can run into the thousands of dollars, but Cook said, "I don't think they'd appreciate it if I started talking dollars. I'm not trying to be coy, but that's part of the game. Still, it comes down to luck and knowing someone who knows someone because they can get the money a lot of places. That's not an issue."

The final piece of the puzzle at George Mason has been acquiring Mobil Corporation as a sponsor. Mobil finances the Grand Prix track circuit, and it offered Cook sponsorship last summer.

"We were lucky there," he said. "I put out feelers because they're moving their corporate headquarters to Fairfax. I saw a woman in their PR department during a meet in Cologne last summer, and she said they were interested. I saw her again in Europe, and she just said flatly, 'We're going to do it.' "

To get Grand Prix status, a meet must have 13 events, and each event must have at least three athletes from Mobil's master list of 300 world-class athletes.

"If they show up, you get a nice check from Mobil after the meet," Cook said. "If not for that, we'd be a struggling meet."

Although there could still be late scratches, the meet appears to be a terrific one, especially in the pole vault, mile and hurdles. In the mile, he'll have U.S. record holder Scott; Jim Spivey, who's ranked No. 1 in the world; and Peter Elliott, who won the Fifth Avenue Mile.

The pole vault will include U.S. stars Earl Bell, Bill Olson and Mike Tully. It also will have Soviet Rodion Gattaullion, who has cleared 19-4 and is the second-ranking Soviet vaulter behind world-record holder Sergei Bubka.

In the hurdles, Cook will have Soviet Igor Kazanov and Olympic champion Kingdom along with Foster, Nehemiah, Tonie Campbell, Jack Pierce and Arthur Blake.