Aquil Abdullah, underwear model and ex-football player, won the silver medal in men's single sculls at the Pan American Games today on Lake Minnedosa.
Canadian Derek Porter won the gold in 6 minutes 54.50 seconds, ahead of Abdullah's time of 7:00.27.
"I got off to a slow start," said Abdullah, who was in fourth place after 500 meters. "That's a little uncharacteristic of the way I race. But I stuck to my race plan, and my last 500 was probably the best I put in."
Abdullah, 26, played football at Wilson High School in the District, and planned on attending North Carolina A&T to play football after graduating in 1991. But that spring, he began rowing for the Wilson team, and he was soon offered--and accepted--a scholarship to row at George Washington University.
"I discovered that I wasn't playing football for myself," said Abdullah, who graduated from GW in 1996 with a physics degree. "I got hooked on rowing, and I think that because of my athleticism, I experienced success quickly. Sports were never about money for me, and I don't regret my decision. I've gone so much further with rowing."
Indeed, Abdullah won the men's single sculls at the 1996 U.S. National Championships, becoming the first African American rower to do so. Earlier this year, he finished first in the Pan American Games trials.
Rowing has also brought Abdullah some national attention--along with Pan Am teammates Jim Neil, Ben Holbrook and Kurt Borcherding, he appeared in a national Jockey underwear ad. Abdullah also appeared in the national television commercial.
"My mother had seen the print ad, but the first time she saw the commercial she was eating dinner at Nathan's in Georgetown," Abdullah said. "She was with a group of friends, and one of them said, 'Isn't that your son?' She spit her food out. But really, she was quite proud."
Abdullah's next goal is to win a medal at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. He only started sculling in 1995, and feels that he is still improving. But for now, he's happy being the Pan Am silver medalist.
"I think I'll wear my medal on the plane ride home," Abdullah said. "But I'll be fully dressed."
Chang Wins Gold
Gaithersburg's Chang Gao Jun won the gold medal in women's table tennis, defeating defending champion Lijuan Geng of Canada, 21-16, 19-21, 14-21, 21-18, 21-2. Chang, the 1991 World Champion and 1992 Olympic silver medalist, recently became eligible to compete for the U.S. . . .
The U.S. men's field hockey team lost to defending Pan Am champion Argentina, 4-1. Scott Williams scored for the Americans, who fell to 0-2-2 in the tournament. The United States can still advance to the bronze medal game with victories over Mexico and Cuba, combined with a Cuban loss to Canada. . . . Rockville's Paul Goldstein will play his first match in the men's tennis competition on Saturday, when he faces Jamaica's Jermaine Smith. Goldstein, the tournament's second seed, had a first-round bye. . . . The U.S. men's water polo team beat Cuba, 11-7, earning the only available berth in the 2000 Olympics.