Somalia`s Abdi Bile wearing number 810 and Great Britain`s Steve Cram (423) look at each other as Bile takes the lead during race in World Athletics Championship in Rome.
R U N N I N G A S
A N A T I O N W A T C H E S
A U G U S T 20, 2 0 0 9
August 20, 2009
Somalia was not known for receiving an attention in the sphere of sports activities. In soccer, for instance, it has a poor record in Africa-wide contests – despite the fact that no other sport approaches its popularity and importance. In track and field activities, before 1987, Somalia has never won a medal in International events.
Although the world track and field championships could be described as American-dominated event, athletes from Africa have made impressive achievements in the 1987 championship, held in Rome. Also in this event, major change appeared in Somali sports. The 1500m middle distance run broke the mould of Somali track and field arena. The 1987 World Championship meet reveals the atmosphere prevailing Somali enthusiasm for Track and Field. It shows how its 1500 meter event defined Somali consciousness in sports in general. “Because of his victory in Rome, [Bile] has noticed that many more young people have shown an interest in running.” [Read below]
Many Olympic and International champions, record holders were part of the World Championship’s middle distance events. To stretch the list, Morocco’s Said Aouita and “British favorite” and defending champion Steve Cram were among the elite stars of the competition. Abdi Bile distinguished himself at the 1,500m event by beating “favoured” Steve Cram in 3 minutes and 36.80 seconds. Bile waited and stayed on Cram’s shoulders until the final turn, before making his decisive move to lead and win the race.
Abdi Bile is the first Somali athlete to win a Gold Medal in any major World-class event. While sprinters (short distance runners) strive to develop their physiques, Abdi Bile is tall and has slim type of body that appears to be ideal for running middle distance track events. He defied every stereotype of Somali sportsmanship. The trademark about his technique of running, which was not wanting to take the lead until the last lap, become a favorite for many Somali middle distance runners. Here in this news-coverage, we crammed in one page few articles and pictures about the Somali hero, Abdi Bile.
Running As a Nation Watches
By MICHAEL JANOFSKY
The New York Times
May 08, 1988
FAIRFAX, VA. In a land where more than 60% of the people are nomads, living in the deserts with the cattle, camels and sheep they raise, heroes are in short supply, most of them men of the sword or cloth.
In the rare event one of another ilk emerges, it is usually by happenstance and quite unexpected. Abdi Bile Abdi, for example, never imagined he would be perceived in such a lofty manner. He was like any other child growing up in Somalia, a poor nation of more than 7 million people, mostly Muslims, on the eastern shoulder of Africa. Even after he left in 1983 to attend school and run track a continent away, he had no sense of how his triumphs would touch his country. Then, he returned home for several weeks, and he was flabbergasted. Everywhere he went, from the capital city of Mogadishu to small village of Las Anod where he was born, he watched in amazement as his countrymen strained to shake his hand, to touch him, cheering all the while, raising their fist in symbolic gestures of nationalistic pride and triumph.
Abdi Bile, as he is known in the West, reviews the scene in his mind again and again and still seems astonished.
“The people were everywhere,” he said the other day, sitting in the bleachers that overlook the track at George Mason University. “Wherever I went, there was a big welcome. I expected some, but not exactly how big as this. Just to walk around in the cities and towns and everybody recognizes my face, it was a kind of exciting. The people, they gave me back motivation and energy.”
The moment that had touched them came in the long shadows of a September afternoon last year in Rome, the final day of the world track and field championships. With 10 finals on the program, the old Stadio Olimpico pulsated with excitement, and it was time for the 1,500 meter race. Bile, who had run the fastest times in the heats and semifinals, took his place among the 12 finalists. Steve Cram, the former world record holder, was there. So was Jose Luis Gonzales, the Spanish champion. “I did not know what to expect,” Bile said.
The pace was slow, but time does not necessarily matter in a big race. Cram led at 1,200 meters but Bile caught him and won in 3:36.80, beating Gonzales and Jim Spivey of the United States by more than a second.
To that point, most of those in Somalia familiar with Bile’s activities knew him only as a good athlete, little more. Soccer is the national passion, not track and field. Long after his victory, he would encounter friends who said: “Oh, yes, I saw you race on TV. That was a marathon, wasn’t it?”
Bile would laugh and tell them, “I don’t run the marathon.”
He didn’t mind. When a country has not won a world championship in anything, what possible difference could the distance of the race matter when it finally did?
When Bile landed at the Mogadishu airport in December, among those who greeted him was Somalia’s President, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Siad Barre. Over the next 25 days, Bile travelled the country in a Private plane. Upon arrival, he was driven to the center of each town along roads lined with cheering Somalis.
“It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen,” said John Cook, Bile’s coach at George Mason, who watched videotapes Bile brought back. “People stood 5 and 10 deep to see him, singing, chanting. You’d have thought he was the Pope.”
Bile’s father is called Bile Abdi. He is a nomad who lives outside Las Anod with his cows, camels, sheep, goats, and horses. His mother, Hawo Osman, one of Abdi’s four wives, lives in Las Anod with a daughter, another of Abdi’s 15 children. All Abdi’s children grew up in Las Anod, tended to by Abdi’s brother, Mohammed Abdi, a police officer who made sure the children received proper housing and schooling.
Bile, now a 25-year-old student in marketing, is the oldest child and, like most Somalis, played soccer as a youngster. He never thought about running until one day, just for fun, a friend coaxed him into running 400 meters with him. Bile finished in 56 seconds, which was not a bad time, considering the track was dirt and he run in a soccer shoes.
Two days later, with the coach of a regional team, he ran another 400, finishing in 55 seconds. The coach asked him to come back the following week and try again. Bile said no, he didn’t like running that much. But his friends talked him into it, and he finished in 53 seconds.
“At that point,” he said, “the coach told me not to do anything, take five days off, come back and run again. This time, I ran 51 seconds. So I went from not doing anything to running the 400 in 51 seconds.” Bile was 18 years old at this time; the best non-altitude time at 400 meters then was 44.26 seconds. Still is.
His progression from there was furious. Joining the regional team, he competed at 400 meters, then three months later at 800 meters and four months after that at 1,500. By the summer of 1982, as a member of the national team, he ran the 800 and 1,500 in the East African Games and the African Championships in successive weeks. He did not especially distinguish himself but he was convinced, with proper training, he could excel.
Meanwhile, Bile had developed a friendship with another Somali runner, Jama Aden [Jamac Karaaciin], who had left the country to attend Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey on a track scholarship. Whenever Aden came home to visit, Bile asked him about the United States, about college, training methods and track facilities.
“He always asked questions,” said Aden, now a graduate assistant at George Mason. “He wanted to know about training with me. I told him I would try to find him in school.”
Aden had known Cook from college meets and liked him. Also, George Mason made sense because of its proximity to Washington and the International nature of its population.
When Bile stepped off a plane at Dulles Airport in July 1983, Cook had known him only through Aden’s descriptions. Within two years, he understood why Aden had raved so much.
At the 1984 Los Angles Olympics, Bile’s first worldwide competition, he made the semifinals in the 1,500. A year later, he won the IC4A and N.C.A.A. title, the Grand Prix championship at 1,500 meters and then the race in Rome.
In movie theaters in Somalia, before the featured attractions, they sometimes show films of Bile’s victory in Rome. When he crosses the finish line, people jump to their feet in the darkness to cheer.
“It’s funny,” he said. “So many people are not really aware of track and field. If I finish second in a time of 3:29, that would not make sense to them. The world championships, that makes sense to them. They understand what it means, winning the world championships.”
Bile is tall and thin, with a circular face and soft features. He laughs easily, and this makes him laugh: Las Anod, which is called L.A. by Somalis, is in a region called Sool. “So, you see? The ’84 Olympics were in L.A. Now, they are in Seoul.” He shrieks with laughter.
In every other way, he views the Olympics more seriously. He knows they are bigger than Rome, more important, and Somalia has never won a medal.
Winning the gold in the 1,500, he said, “would be the greatest day of my life” but not only for the obvious reasons. In all of Somalia, a country the size of California with a per capita income of $300 a year, there is no track. Nor do the schools offer physical education programs. Children run on dirt and grass. So do the regional teams.
Because of his victory in Rome, he has noticed that many more young people have shown an interest in running. But without proper programs or facilities, he fears their new enthusiasm might be blunted.
“A lot of people have the potential,” he said. “They need someone to encourage them; they need to get facilities. To win gold at the world championships or the Olympic Games, to be successful, at least they should have a track and some programs.” For now, he can only help the cause by his performance in Seoul. I have the confidence,” he said. If things go well and I stay healthy, I am capable of winning.”
Mason's Bile Making A Name for Himself Runner Adjusts to U.S., but Not to Pizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
The Washington Post
June 09, 1985
Abdi Bile Abdi is no longer puzzled by the strange Americans with their taste for beer and the loathsome cheese and tomato stuff called pizza. Nor is he surprised when they call him by the wrong name, Abdi Abdi, which is often.
He settled the matter of his name one day when he walked over to George Mason's track coach, John Cook, smiled and demonstrated his excellent English. "Calling me that," Cook recalled him saying, "is like me calling you Cook Cook."
The correct manner of address, should you happen to encounter the runner in the Somalian capital of Mogadishu, or the more likely setting of the Seoul Olympics in 1988, is Abdi Bile.
Recently, he became the NCAA champion in the 1,500 meters. It was one of two NCAA titles for George Mason at the Division I outdoor track and field championships in Austin, Tex. The Patriots' Rob Muzzio won the decathlon.
For once and for all, then, because chances are good he will be heard from again, his last name is considered Bile, pronounced "Billy" in Somalia, and it is strictly an Americanization to call him that other thing that makes it sound as if he doesn't know there's only one of him.
Bile, a sophomore who carried the Somalian flag in the Los Angeles Olympics last summer, was the first foreign track runner to be recruited by George Mason, which he chose because, among other reasons, it was near Washington and thus close to the Somalian embassy. Cook recruited him sight unseen on the advice of a Somalian runner at Fairleigh Dickinson.
Bile's first taste of American living came when he stepped off the plane. Cook, relieved to know that the frail foreigner at least looked like a runner, decided to take his new charge out for pizza, for which Abdi developed an immediate distaste. When he is asked now what he would like for dinner, he tends to reply, "No pizza."
If Bile had some trouble adjusting to his new surroundings, Cook has been equally confounded by his star athlete at times. Prior to his 1,500 heat in Austin, Bile startled his coach by announcing that he was required by his Moslem faith to fast during the day for a period and could eat only between sunset and sunrise.
"Abdi," Cook said, "You can't do that."
They finally compromised. Bile ate a meal and won the 1,500. The agreement was that he would return to his fast after the championships and forgo competition in any more races until the summer.
"You don't go crazy with Abdi," Cook said. "If I go to war with him, I'd lose in the long run because I'd lose his trust. I said, Hey, let's just go through the NCAAs.' Now, everybody wants him to run. I want him to run, too. It's against my nature not to. But I tell people who want him that he's not running now, he's fasting."
Because of his background, Bile casts a fresh eye on U.S. culture, and couples it with wit and a good command of English. Of Austin, he said, "I do not like Texas. It is so far from everything."
He has not always been comfortable here, and frankly misses Somalia, where he plans to return and go into his family's import-export business after earning a business degree. The worst time was when he was a recent arrival and trying to learn the confusing business of being a college freshman in the United States.
"At first, I had culture shock," he said. "The climate, the food, all that stuff. Everything was new. I was trying to learn the way of living in this country."
There are two other Somalian runners at George Mason now, both largely recruited by Bile-freshmen Ibrahim Okash and Ahmed Ismail. Prior to their arrival, however, Cook was virtually Bile's only close acquaintance. Serious about his faith, he was shocked by some of the goings-on in his dorm, and took refuge with his coach.
"Moslems are very straight," said Cook, who has become interested enough in his protege to start studying the subject. "There were a lot of things he saw that hurt him-let's face it, the drugs, the alcohol, the sex. It's a Friday night at college, can you imagine? But now I think he's learned to take the good in us and leave the other things alone. He doesn't get caught up in the societal habits."
Bile is training-while he is fasting-for two meets in Europe and Africa this summer, with the aim of competing in the World Cup track meet in Australia in October. To him, his religion and running are not in conflict, which Cook gradually has realized.
Until his NCAA championship, Bile's career had been a strange and not always successful one. One concern for Cook has been Bile's 6-foot-2, 150-pound frame. He puts in considerably less time running than do most of his counterparts because he has been accident prone.
At the NCAA meet last year, Bile was warming up on the sidelines for the final when he stepped on a switch box and broke a bone in his foot. He missed most of the indoor season this year when he ruptured a vertebra lifting a paint bucket in a theater class. He thought it was empty, but it was a full, 50-gallon container.
"Theater, right?" Cook said. "We thought it was a nice, safe class."
The most disappointing incident of his career, however, came during the Los Angeles Olympics last summer. He ran well in the semifinal heat of the 1,500, only to discover afterward he had been disqualified. A Brazilian runner had fallen during the race, and Bile was accused of bumping him.
"The guy who fell down was running behind me," he said. "How do you push someone when they are behind you? I just know that I made the final, and it was tragic."
The incident makes the 1988 Olympics all the more inviting. Cook contends he could be the favorite.
"I believe that with patience and a little luck, Abdi is going to be one of the great milers in the world," he said. "I knew all the time I had an athlete. It's just been a question of getting him to the starting line."
Track Mason`s Bile Captures 1,000
The Wasington Post
January 13, 1986
Abdi Bile Abdi of George Mason won the 1,000 meters in 2 minutes 21.85 seconds in the Father Diamond Memorial indoor meet yesterday at George Mason.
Olympian Sophia Hunter of Delaware State won the women`s 55-meter hurdles, the 200 meters, 400 meters and ran a leg on the winning mile relay team.
Ray Humphrey of Georgetown won the long jump (24 feet 7 1/4) and the triple jump (51-10 1/4).
Bile`s time was almost two seconds faster than the qualifying standard for the NCAA indoor championships, March 14-15 at Oklahoma City. Bile, a junior and a native of Somalia, is the NCAA outdoor 1,500-meter champion and ran the fastest collegiate mile of last season at 3:53.08.
Rob Muzzio, George Mason`s two-time NCAA decathlon champion, won the shot put at 53-9.
Phyllis Addison of George Mason won the women`s shot put and the 20-pound weight throw. John Ragin of the University of the District of Columbia won the 55-meter sprint in 6.21 seconds.
At the D.C. Road Runners` annual indoor track meet, Steve Pinard of Hartwood, Va., broke the meet and track record in the two mile, finishing in 8:58 at Thomas Jefferson Community Center in Arlington.
BILE WINS 1,500M AFRICANS SWEEP AT ROME
Joe Concannon, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe
September 07, 1987
ROME - Abdi Bile settled into a chair behind a microphone in the interview room in Olympic Stadium yesterday afternoon, and he was asked about the performance of the African runners in the second World Championships of Track and Field. "Africans," he said, "have been running well since the beginning of sport. It`s not just this year, it`s many years."
Bile, who grew up in the village of Lasanod in Somalia, had raced past favored Steve Cram of Great Britain in the men`s 1,500 and left Cram and an impressive field in his wake as he thundered home in 3 minutes 36.80 seconds to set up an African sweep of the three men`s middle- and long-distance races yesterday and complete a sweep of every flat race from 800 meters to the marathon.
Kenya`s Douglas Wakihuru, who has trained in Tokyo for the past five years with Boston Marathon champion Toshihiko Seko, was the surprise winner of the marathon in 2:11:48. Morocco`s Said Aouita, to the surprise of no one, unleashed his patented finishing kick to win a tactical 5,000-meter race in 13:26 in front of an overflow crowd of 70,000 on a warm and humid evening.
This was an astonishing showing by the Africans, whose fortunes on the track dipped slightly following their boycott of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Kenyan Billy Konchellah had won the 800, and countryman Paul Kipkoech had won the 10,000. Kenyan Joshuah Kipkemboi fell as he followed eventual winner Francesco Panetta of Italy in Saturday`s 3,000 steeplechase.
The United States won three of the four relay races, with Carl Lewis winning his second medal with a whirlwind anchor leg in the 4x100. The US men won the 4x400 and the US women won the 4x100 to take home nine gold medals and 19 medals overall in the eight days of competition. The United States won eight golds and 24 overall in the inaugural World Championships four years ago in Helsinki.
"This is without a doubt my best competition," said Lewis, who won the long jump Saturday night and tied the 100-meter world record that Ben Johnson lowered en route to his victory in the event. "I`m optimistic about next year because of it. The important thing for me today was to do what I had to do. Take the baton from Harvey (Glance) and win the race. That`s my job."
This was to be Super Sunday in track, a day when expectations were high for big races by Cram and Aouita. Cram fizzled in the final 250 meters and finished eighth in 3:41.19, and Aouita, who became the first to break 13:00 in the 5,000 on this track on July 22, was content to sit on the shoulder of Kenya`s John Ngugi throughout much of the race before turning it on to win his 38th consecutive track race.
The 1,500 had been Cram`s special territory, but he ran out of gas yesterday. He went to the front 500 meters into the race, but Bile took the lead away from him. Cram moved in front again and led at the bell lap. Bile, a marketing major at Virginia`s George Mason University and the NCAA champion, went past Cram as they came off the backstretch and took it home from there.
Spain`s Jose Louis Gonzales came on to finish second (3:38.03), and former University of Indiana runner Jim Spivey of Glen Ellyn, Ill., won the bronze in 3:38.82. "I knew Cram was very strong," said Bile, who has won five of six 1,500s on the track this year and will run in tonight`s meeting in nearby Rieti. "I expected somewhere he would make his move." When he did, it was in reverse.
Wakihuru, who was born in the capital city of Mombasa but grew up in the village of Nyeru as a member of the Kikuyu tribe, ran to a stunning victory in his third marathon. He entered the stadium to take the final lap in the presence of Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi and led Djibouti`s Ahmed Saleh (2:12:30) and Italy`s own Gelindo Bordin (2:12:40) to the finish.
Canada`s Paul Maher, an Irishman who weighed 265 pounds and smoked a pack and a half of cigarettes a day until 18 months ago, took the race out and ran alone up front until he came back to the pack 27.50 kilometers (1:26:35) into the race over cobblestone streets and through St. Peter`s Square, the Piazza del Popolo, the Spanish Steps, the Imperial Forum, the Colesseum and the Baths of Caracalla.
The lead pack had dwindled to Great Britain`s Hugh Jones (fifth, 2:12:54), Tanzania`s Juma Ikangaa (sixth, 2:13:43), Saleh, Australia`s Steven Moneghetti (fourth, 2:12:49), Denmark`s Henrik Jorgensen (ninth, 2:14:58) and Wakihuru by the time they passed through 30 kilometers in 1:34:08. Wakihuru and Saleh then made it a two-man race.
The break came inside the walls of St. Peter`s Square 38 kilometers into the race, as the runners passed the sculptured fountain and prepared to head out onto the city streets and for home. "I did not know (I could win) from the start," said the 23-year-old Wakihuru, who had met the late Kiyoshi Nakamura in New Zealand when he was coaching Seko in 1983 and currently runs for Seko`s club in Tokyo. "But after 38 kilometers, I was too strong. I knew I could win."
Aouita had talked of going through 3,000 in 7:50, to set up a second sub- 13:00 performance. He was content in the 74-degree weather and 71-percent humidity to sit and wait, letting world cross-country champion Ngugi (12th, 13:34.04) do the work up front. They hit 3,000 in 8:16.19, and Ngugi was still there as they went through 4,000 in 10:58.60.
But Ngugi simply blew up, and Aouita ran a 56-second final lap to remain unbeaten on the track since Cram beat him in a world-record 3:29.67 1,500 in Nice, France, July 16, 1985. Portugal`s Domingos Castro (13:27.59), Great Britain`s Jack Buckner (13:27.74), Switzerland`s Pierre Deleze (13:28.06) and Belgium`s Vincent Rousseau (13:28.56) rounded out the top five.
Patrik Sjoeberg, the Swedish high jumper who set the world record (7-11 1/ 4) June 30 in Stockholm, won his event when he cleared 7-9 3/4, and Great Britain`s Fatima Whitbread won the javelin with a throw of 215-5. It is now on to Tokyo for the third World Championships in 1991. Arrivederci, Roma. Campai, Tokyo.
© 1987 New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.
Win makes Bile hero in Somalia
September 11, 1987
BRUSSELS, Belgium - Since Abdi Bile won the 1,500 meters in the world track and field championships at Rome, he has been a national hero in Somalia.
He has received phone calls and telegrams from government officials and reports of celebrations across the east African country.
“The people have never experienced winning in anything,” said Bile, one of the featured entrants in Friday`s 1,500 at the IAAF/Mobil Grand Prix Final in Brussels.
The media are eager to find out about the 24-year-old, the oldest of 14 children, who wasn`t interested in running until 18 and didn`t compete seriously until arriving four years ago at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
But runners know all about Bile, a 1984 Olympic finalist and the 1985 and `87 NCAA outdoor champ in the 1,500. In Sunday`s world championships final, he passed British favorite and defending champion Steve Cram and won easily.
“The only question about Abdi was whether he could stay healthy,” said USA bronze medalist Jim Spivey.
The 6-2, 165-pounder has had stress fractures, tendinitis, hamstring problems and, most recently, a strained lower back that kept him from running for two weeks in July.
George Mason coach John Cook, who sent a trainer to Europe for Bile, thinks a healthy Bile can challenge world records in the 1,500 (3:29.46) and 800 (1:41.73).
“I think he can go 3:28,” the coach said. “He`s not strong enough yet for the mile record. I think he could go 1:41-1:42 for the half.”
Bile plans to return to George Mason, though not to compete in college sports. He has forfeited his scholarship so he can accept prize money and appearance payments and concentrate on training for the 1988 Olympics.
He`s anxious for the track season to end so he can return to his marketing studies.
“I can`t wait to get back to my small dorm room,” he said, smiling. “School is important.”
“All this other stuff is fantasy. School is real life.”
LEWIS SKIPPING JUMP: Carl Lewis will run the 200 meters in Brussels, bypassing the long jump. Ben Johnson, the world record-holder in the 100, will compete in a separate, non-championship section of the 200. Lewis and Johnson hope to stage a series of match races in the 100 prior to next year`s Olympics. ... Said Aouita, the 5,000 world champion, will not compete. World champions entered include Jackie Joyner-Kersee (long jump), Sergei Bubka (pole vault), Greg Foster (110 hurdles) and Stefka Kostadinova (high jump).
© 1987 USA Today. All Rights Reserved.
Bile Captures Sizzling 1,500 In IAAF Race
July 20, 1989
PESCARA, Italy (AP) _ Abdi Bile of Somalia won the 1,500 meters with the fastest time in the world this year at an IAAF-Mobil Grand Prix track and field meet Wednesday.
Bile used a devastating kick to finish in 3 minutes, 31.20 seconds, the eighth-fastest time ever and less than two seconds more than the world record of 3:29.46, held by Said Aouita of Morocco.
"I felt I had a chance in Pescara. It was an excellent race and my personal best, but we missed something after the first 1,000 meters," Bile said.
Wilfred Kirochi of Kenya was second in 3:32.57 and Gennaro Di Napoli of Italy third in 3:32.97, both national records.
The pack, headed by early leader Tony Morrell, was timed at 2:49.76 at 1,200 meters. Morrell faded and Bile used a tremendous kick on the backstretch to blow past the field.
After fast early times of 55.52 seconds at 400 meters and 1:52.94 at 800, the pace slowed in the third lap, killing Bile`s chance for a crack at the world record.
© 1989 World Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Abdi Bile’s footsteps