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Weidenbach Staying on Track Toward Goal of Olympic Team

Last October, six months after failing to make the U.S. Olympic women’s marathon team for the second consecutive time, Lisa Weidenbach won the Chicago Marathon.

Despite her earnings--more than $70,000 in prize and appearance money--and a personal-best time of 2 hours 29 minutes 17 seconds, Weidenbach was not entirely satisfied.

“This is kind of bittersweet,” she said after the race. “Nothing can make up for not making the Olympic team. It is my goal and ultimate motivation.”

The Olympics are the ultimate motivation for many runners, of course. But in Weidenbach’s case, getting there has been something of a tragicomedy.

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In 1984, Weidenbach, running in only her third marathon, placed fourth in the Olympic Trials. Only the top three finishers earn an Olympic team berth. Weidenbach was in third place with a mile to go, but was passed by Julie Isphording down the stretch.

In a race that, for her, lasted 2 hours and 35 minutes, Weidenbach missed the team by 44 seconds.

In 1988, Weidenbach placed fourth again, this time by 48 seconds.

“In 1984, I wasn’t disappointed because it was just my third marathon, and I only had the 16th-fastest time going in,” Weidenbach, 27, said. “But all these people said, ‘Oh, you poor thing! You were fourth.’ But then the second time it happened, it was the longest summer of my life.”

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To alleviate her disappointment, Weidenbach immediately set new goals. One was to win the 1988 Chicago Marathon.

“That was the first time I said such a thing--that I was going to win a race,” she said. “Not only that, but I was going to win for me. Not my parents, my husband, my dog or whatever.”

Weidenbach, who will run the invitational portion of the San Clemente 5,000 at 8 a.m. Sunday, started her athletic career at 5, with swimming.

By the time she was a freshman at Michigan, Weidenbach had qualified for the Olympic swimming trials, but the trials never happened because of the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Games. Soon thereafter, Weidenbach started running, found she enjoyed it more than swimming, and went out for Michigan’s cross-country and track teams the next year.

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Although Weidenbach said she didn’t even make the traveling team her first year, and was burdened by the stress-related injuries common to new runners, she progressed rapidly.

The many miles trimmed her 5-foot 10-inch swimmer’s frame from 140 to 125 pounds. And with some impressive natural speed--she was able to run the mile under 5 minutes her first year--Weidenbach was on her way.

After her victory at Chicago, Weidenbach set out to make 1989 her best year.

So far, Weidenbach, a resident of the Seattle suburb of Issaquah, is right on schedule.

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In February, Weidenbach set the U.S. record for the 15K at the Gasparilla Distance event. Her time of 49:01 broke the record of 49:25 set by Betty Springs in 1985.

In April, Weidenbach set the U.S. record for 10 miles (52:34) at the Nike Cherry Blossom race in Washington, D.C. Weidenbach also broke her American 15K record (48:58) along the way.

In June, Weidenbach won the Cascade Run Off in Portland, improving again on her 15K record (48:28). That time took six seconds off the course record set by Grete Waitz of Norway.

Although the 15K distance is where Weidenbach’s strength now lies--she said Sunday’s 5K race will be mainly just a speed workout--her hopes three years from now undoubtedly will be focused again on the marathon. Namely, the 1992 Trials.

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The pressure undoubtedly will be enormous.

“I try not to think of it that way,” she said. “But when I sit and think about it, it is a tremendous pressure that I feel. For now, I just to focus in on the races coming up such as the San Clemente 5,000. That way I’m able to keep things in perspective. That way if I don’t make an Olympic team, at least I’ll know I still had a great career.

“You know, Michael Jordan may never win an NBA championship, but he’s still having a great career. Ingrid Kristinsen has never won an Olympic medal, but she’s still known as one of the best women runners ever . . .

“Of course I say this now, (but) come the ’92 Trials, I’ll probably be a wreck.”

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Postcard from Europe: Former University High star Greg Whiteley is for the first time competing on the prestigious and often lucrative European track circuit this summer.

His message, via air mail: “Well, I made it to ‘The Show.’ Tonight, I’m pacing (Yobes) Ondieki of Kenya to an attempted world record for 5,000 meters. Monday, I race Stockholm and then it’s back to England for a week before I go to Nice. I’ve met what seems like every famous runner there is: Steve Ovett, John Walker, Dave Moorcroft. . . . I’ve brushed elbows with Paula Ivan and Said Aouita. . . . Sincerely, G.W.”

Newport Beach native PattiSue Plumer continues to dominate women’s distance fields through the European track circuit.

Plumer, a 1988 Olympian, overcame cold, windy conditions to win the 3,000 last Friday at the IAC International Grand Prix track and field meet. Plumer won in 8:43.82, more than a second ahead of Britain’s Liz McColgan.

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Monday, Plumer was selected to represent the U.S. in the World University Games at Duisburg, West Germany, Aug. 22-30.

Track-happy: After years of waiting, Saddleback College’s track and field teams have a new track.

Although it won’t be ready for use for another week or so--it’s getting lane line markings today--the new all-weather track is a tremendous addition to Saddleback’s track programs. The track Saddleback had been using for the last few years had been slowly falling apart, Coach Gene Gurule said, and despite several efforts to resurface it, the track continued to crumble.

“It was so bad, we could just pick up big pieces of it and walk away with it,” Gurule said. “Part of lane one was practically gone. It got to the point where we had to postpone track meets because it was so bad.”

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The cost of the track, estimated at $175,000, will be paid by the school. Gurule said he hopes to hold all-comers meets as soon as August as well as the Orange County boys’ track and field championships at Saddleback next year.


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