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Making a Name for Herself at Last : PattiSue Plumer’s Record Sets Her Apart From Sister

A year ago, PattiSue Plumer lay in the medical tent at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, trying to recover from the severe dehydration and heat exhaustion she suffered in one of the most painful races of her career.

Vying for the third and final spot in the women’s 3,000 meters, Plumer had overcome the heat--95 degrees and 60% humidity--and some tremendous competition, to stagger across the finish line with an Olympic berth in her grasp.

Hours later, after recovering, Plumer left the medical tent and was instantly showered with cheers.

Unfortunately, many of the well-wishers, like so many well-wishers before, said the wrong thing:

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“Way to go, Polly! You’re tough, Polly Sue!”

Once again, PattiSue Plumer was being confused with her younger sister, Polly, a former track star at University High School and UCLA.

“I wanted to scream at them, ‘Her name is PattiSue! Give the woman some respect,” said her fiance, Steve Levere.

“But PattiSue just said, ‘Just forget it, Steve. It always happens.’ ”

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If making the Olympic team last year wasn’t enough to establish PattiSue’s identity in the public’s eye, perhaps her performance Monday at Stockholm, Sweden was.

At Stockholm, Plumer placed second to East Germany’s Kathrin Ullrich in the 5,000 meters and set an American record with a time of 14 minutes 57.22 seconds, slashing more than nine seconds off the record of 15:06.53 set in 1985.

The former record-holder? Mary Slaney, who until Plumer’s race held American records in every track distance from the 800 to the 10,000 meters.

Plumer, whose time of 14:57.22 ranks as the fifth-fastest women’s 5,000 meters of all time, said the race was almost as tough as last year’s Olympic Trials.

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“It was real hard, the pain side of it I mean,” said Plumer in a telephone interview from Stockholm. “Plus the conditions were tough. It was 75 degrees, there was bright sun on half of the field, and the other half was in the shadows, so it was tricky to see. There was a lot of bumping, too.”

But the field, which along with Ullrich, included world-class Olympians Liz McColgan of Great Britain, Lynn Williams of Canada and Elly Van Hulst of Holland, helped pull Plumer to a 20-second improvement over her previous best. And the crowd, as with most on the European circuit, was loud and tremendously supportive.

“With three laps to go, there were four of us left,” said Plumer, 27. “And with two laps to go, there was just three--me, the East German (Ullrich) and the Canadian (Williams). With one lap to go, somehow I had a burst of energy and then it was just me and (Ullrich).

“She passed me with 200 (meters) to go, I passed her back, she passed me and that was it for me. I was a little amazed I even made it to the finish line.”

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Many were surprised that Plumer did so well, considering her race schedule the past two weeks.

On June 24, Plumer won a 3,000-meter race in Birmingham, England, by outkicking McColgan down the final stretch.

The next day, her flight was delayed 10 hours, her clothes were stolen and she lost the lucky pearl earrings she received for her 16th birthday. Nevertheless, Plumer won another 3,000 at Villeneuve D’Asq, France.

On June 26, Plumer flew to Lausanne, Switzerland, to try to get into a meet--one in which the meet director, believing Plumer had little drawing power, had refused her entry. After much argument, Plumer was granted entry.

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Plumer not only won the race, but outran 1988 Olympic gold medalist Paula Ivan of Romania for the victory. Plumer’s time of 8:42.12 is the fastest in the world this year.

“It felt great during the race,” she said. “I kept expecting that heavy fatigue to set in, but I felt fine. People kept asking me, ‘Aren’t you worried you’re racing too much? Aren’t you tired?’ But the fatigue never came. All of a sudden it was me and Paula with a lap to go. I just went for it.”

Tenacity has become a trademark for Plumer, who, despite spending the past three years in law school, has managed to run on a consistent, national-class level. She won the 3,000 at The Athletics Congress championship last month by outkicking former Missouri star Sabrina Dornhoefer, who lost to Plumer for the final spot on the Olympic team last July. Plumer finished 13th at the Olympics.

But according to her college coach, Stanford’s Brook Johnson, Plumer wasn’t always the most courageous runner.

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“During her freshman year, she was just going through the motions,” Johnson said. “In that year, the qualifying standard for (AIAW) nationals in the 3,000 was 9:40. She ran 9:39.9 to qualify and 9:39.9 (actually 9:42.02) at the nationals.

“I sat her down and said ‘Look, I brought you here because you’re a freshman. If all you’re gonna do is run the minimum, then you’re just running on the recreational level. I want to see how much you want out of yourself.’ That was a turning point.”

Plumer, recently chosen by The Athletics Congress as the only women’s 3,000-meter entrant to represent the U.S. in the International Amateur Athletic Federation World Cup meet Sept. 8-10 in Barcelona, Spain, ran almost a minute faster--8:55.98--the next year.

Plumer grew up in Newport Beach, but in the middle of seventh grade moved with her father to Ridgeway, Colo., a tiny town on the western slopes of the Rockies.

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In high school, Plumer competed in track and cross-country, placing third as a senior in the mile (5:10) and the two-mile (11:20) at the Colorado state meet.

But at the same time, about a 1,000 miles west, Polly Plumer, 24, was making national news at University High. In 1982, Polly, who because of persistent injuries is in semi-retirement, set the current national record for the prep girls’ 1,600 meters in 4:35.24.

Even when PattiSue went to Stanford, where she became a three-time NCAA All-American in track, placing second in the 3,000 meters for three consecutive years, people still confused her with her sister.

“She was always ‘Polly Sue Plumer’ to some people,” Johnson said. “I can remember her running a race in L.A. and San Diego . . . through the whole race they announced her as Polly Sue Plumer.

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“She was clearly under her sister’s shadow. There wasn’t any sibling rivalry, but PattiSue would say, ‘If I’m (working so hard), the least they could do is get my name right.’ ”

A understandable request--perhaps now more than ever.

Race Schedule

Thursday: College of the Canyons 5K cross-country series. College of the Canyons, Valencia. 7 p.m. Very challenging cross-country course. For information, call (805) 944-2511.

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Paramount Ranch Cross-Country 2- and 3-mile Gran Prix, 6:30 p.m., Paramount Ranch, Agoura. For information, call (818) 992-6219.

Saturday: Morro Bay to Cayucos 6-mile run. Starts Morro Rock, Morro Bay, and runs on firm sand to Cayucos. Runners must provide their own transportation back. For information, call (805) 643-1104.

Sunday: Project Wildlife 10K. Balboa Park, corner of Presidents Way and Pan-Am Plaza parking lot. 7:30 a.m. For information, call (619) 236-0842.

Fifth Star Festival 5K District Championships, Gardena. Start Pacific Square Plaza, Redondo Beach Blvd. For information, call (213) 323-4444.

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