Truly, the Games are calling

CHAMPAIGN – It should come as no surprise that Bobby True has designs on the 2000 Olympics.

Already this year, the five-time Illinois All-American has set an NCAA record in one track event and clocked the fourth-fastest time among U.S. runners in another.

How best to prepare for an Olympic bid, however, wasn't nearly as obvious for True. Should the Illini senior make use of a redshirt opportunity this spring and retain his final year of outdoor eligibility for 2000? Or should the four-time Big Ten 800-meter champion ride the tide of a superlative indoor season into this outdoor campaign?

Momentum won out.

"I had a real good punch at the end of the indoor season," True said recently, "and with that I thought I had the momentum to go into a really good outdoor season – possibly break the 1:46 or 1:45 mark and put me in the actual world class of runners."

True's finishing kick to the indoor season included running the fastest 600 meters in NCAA history, a 1:17.35 in the finals of the Big Ten Championships.

Two weeks later, the Glenbard West High School graduate ran the first sub-1:47 of his life in the fastest indoor 800 field in collegiate history. Although True's 1:46.95 was good for only fifth in the NCAA Championships, it was the seventh-fastest ever by a U.S.-born collegiate runner. In fact, True's time was good enough to have won 32 of the 34 previous NCAA indoor 800s.

"If that's any indication – which it was – I know if he builds on that he's going to be pretty awesome," Illini coach Gary Wieneke said.

True and Wieneke began discussing the pros and cons of redshirting early in the school year. The primary argument for redshirting was that, as a UI team member, he would be assured of having a structured schedule next spring leading into the U.S. Olympic Trials.

But the arguments against redshirting were compelling, too.

Wieneke assured True, who plans to return to school next year, that he would have access to UI track facilities and the coach's tutelage. They've also discussed True serving as a student coach or volunteer coach.

Scheduling wouldn't be that much of an issue, either, because True still could enter the same meets Illinois did while competing unattached. Or True could travel to other meets that offered the kind of competitive fields that best served his training goals.

"The major consideration in not redshirting was the the kind of environment (for training and competition) he'd have," Wieneke said. "We wanted to keep the environment as close as possible to what it had been."

And there's always the possibility, True points out, that he could be picked up by a track club or earn a sponsorship once his collegiate career ends.

If all goes as planned, True will be peaking by mid-July 2000, when the U.S. Olympic Trials are held in Sacramento, Calif.

In the meantime, True said there is plenty of unfinished business to attend to before his UI career comes to an end.

In late May, the Glendale Heights native will vie for his third straight Big Ten crown in the outdoor 800. The only Illini to have won as many was two-time Olympian Marko Koers, a four-time league winner in that race.

Then it's on to Boise, Idaho, in June for a reunion of that fierce NCAA 800 field, this time in an outdoor setting. A year ago, True placed eighth in the 800 national finals.

"There's a lot of great 800-meter runners at this level," Wieneke said, "but Bobby pretty well thrives on competition, so that's good."

What's bad, True said, is his college career seems to have passed like the blur of a 55-meter dash.

"If I could turn back the clock, I would," he said. "It's all gone too fast. I have two more months to enjoy collegiate life as a competing athlete, and I want to make the most of it."

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