BARCELONA, Spain -- PattiSue Plumer is tough. So tough she runs in sunglasses. At night.
She nudges runners in the pack, and sometimes she just runs them over. She criticizes American men for not accepting successful female athletes. She made the 1988 Olympic team despite having run only two competitive races that year. Then she collapsed right after her Olympic trials run.
She's a 5-foot-4, 107-pound whirlwind, with long brown hair, hazel eyes and a Magic Johnson smile.
And one mean attitude.
"Patti knows that once you get to this level, you have to have a certain mental frame to advance to the next and highest level," said Barbara Jacket, the U.S. women's track coach. "She's not trying to psyche anybody out; she just has that aura of invincibility about her."
Plumer, 30, said: "If I die, I die. I may not win, but I've got to give a good account of myself for every race. My style has always been all out, all the time. That is what PattiSue is all about."
Plumer will need an iron-woman performance here in the 1992 Summer Olympics. She'll compete in both the 1,500- and 3,000-meter runs, the latter beginning today.
It's not that the middle-distance races are so grueling, but Plumer is still getting treatment on her lower back. She hurt it nearly a year ago at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., in an elbow shoving match with Suzy Hamilton. Hamilton won the race; Plumer fell and had to be carried from the track.
"After the Olympic trials, I thought I would be pretty sore the next day," Plumer said. "But I took a cortisone shot, and I feel fine now. I'm far from perfect, and there's pain shooting down my left leg even as I speak, but I've still got to run."
And talk -- about her feud with Mary Slaney, her injuries and men's attitudes toward female athletes.
"After the trials, people were asking me if I was going to double, and I said, 'We'll see what happens,' " said Plumer, ranked 10th in the world in the 1,500 and eighth in the 3,000. "Then I see where Mary Decker [Slaney] says I'll probably double to keep her out of the 1,500 because I hate her. Well, if there was one person I would have considered a spot for, it was Mary Decker because of her ability to get in shape in three to four weeks. I've always respected her."
Arrogant? No. Confident? Yes. Paranoid? Maybe. And possibly with good reason.
She has always been one of America's best distance runners, butprone to freakish accidents. She missed the 1985 season after she was hit by a car while crossing a street in Japan. The accident left her with a broken left leg. During the world championships last year, she was bitten by a dog during a training run between the heats and the finals and finished 12th.
"Every injury I have has been to my left leg," Plumer said. "That poor cab driver. Until last year, he sent me flowers on the anniversary day every year. As for the dog, the owner came and got him, removed him right away."
Plumer took a sabbatical from competition during the 1987 season, when she started her first year at Stanford Law School. She never stopped training, though, and after just two warm-up races, finished third in the 3,000 meters at the 1988 Olympic trials. The 100-plus degree temperatures in Indianapolis took their toll, though: She had to be wheeled off on a stretcher. She finished 13th in the '88 Games.
"It's a pretty constant fight between the private and athletic life," said Plumer, who completed law school in just two years. "After law school I wanted to know if I wanted to spend two to three months on the road, most of it in Europe. I have a great husband, but I want to also have a family. But it's hard to give up something you know you can be very good at.
""Men are very intimidated by successful women athletes. Either they don't say anything at all, or it's something like, 'Oh, going to train again?' Or 'why don't you get a real job?' They'll do anything to try and sabotage your success as an athlete," Plumer said.
"I'm 30 now, and with the injuries, it's most likely I'll retire," she said. "If the competition level remains the same, I could be back in 1996. But you know, things are always changing."
0 But PattiSue Plumer remains the same. Tough.