NEW ORLEANS -- PattiSue Plumer is a lawyer who knows how to go for the jugular.
Think she's tough to beat in a labor hearing? You should see her on a track.
Last night, in the women's 3,000-meter final at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, Plumer fought off Shelly Steely in a last-lap duel to win in 8 minutes, 40.98 seconds.
Steely finished second in 8:41.28. Taking the third spot in 8:42.31 was Annette Peters.
"It went like I had hoped, but nothing like I had expected," Plumer said. "Everyone was really competitive. No one held back."
Least of all Plumer, a 30-year-old who is taking a leave of absence from a Palo Alto, Calif., law firm to train full time for the Olympics.
"I didn't want to just make the team," Plumer said. "I wouldn't have been any less happy if I was third or I was first. But I didn't know if there was anyone else behind us. I didn't want any surprises. You don't sleep very well when that happens to you. And as a competitive runner, your adrenalin takes over. You forget that this is for the Olympics. Your competitive instincts just take over."
Plumer has survived an ordeal this year, trying to come back from a back injury that has left her in excruciating pain with three damaged disks. The pain began five years ago when she was hit by taxi driver in Yokohama, Japan. Then, last season, she tumbled in a race in Eugene, Ore.
"This has been the most overwhelming year of my life," she said. "To make this team is incredible."
While Plumer opened a new era in American women's track, another came to a close.
Mary Slaney, the American record holder in the 3,000, was beaten badly, finishing sixth in 9:02.60.
"I guess I just didn't feel very good," Slaney said. "I felt fine for the first few laps, when I led. But then, I just didn't feel all that good."
At least, she wasn't hurt. Slaney recently underwent her 14th surgery, this time to repair a damaged right foot.
"Nothing hurts; knock on wood," she said.
Slaney still can make the Olympic team in the women's 1,500. But again, she'll have to face Plumer.
"If I never get an Olympic medal, I still have a lot of years to look back on," Slaney said. "It's not like this is it, right here."
Kamy Keshmiri, whose father, Joe, was a four-time Olympic discus thrower for Iran, won the discus at 211 feet, 10 inches.
Anthony Washington, the 1991 TAC champion, was second at 207-8, and Mike Bncic, a 1988 Olympian, was third at 207-6.
For Keshmiri, a three-time NCAA champion and two-time TAC champion, the win was pure redemption. At last year's TAC meet in New York, he finished fourth and failed to advance to the world championships in Tokyo.
"Up until last year, every team I ever tried to qualify for, I made," he said. "Then, I fell a little short. That woke me up. For a 23-year-old thrower, I had accomplished a lot. But I felt drained. I wasn't motivated."
But in the trials, the motivation was simple: Make the team. Now, he'll go into the Olympics with the U.S. team. Keshmiri said he turned down an opportunity last December to join the Iranian team. It wasn't a matter of money, it was a matter of pride.
"I thought about standing on that podium, seeing the flag go up," he said. "I wanted that flag to be American. It wouldn't be right to compete for Iran."
For those thirsting for another long-jump confrontation between world-record holder Mike Powell and Carl Lewis, you might have to wait until the Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.
Powell admitted that until three days ago he was sidelined with a pulled hamstring muscle. And Lewis struggled in the preliminaries. Still, both advanced to tomorrow's final.
"I was barely able to stride," Powell said after taking one jump at 27-5 1/4 . "That jump in the prelims really felt bad. I'm just happy I got that leap off. I can't wait to come out and let it all go."
Lewis took three jumps, scratched on another one and settled for a disappointing 26-8 1/2 . As he ran out of Tad Gormley Stadium, he said, "Nothing's wrong. I was just overheated. It's hot."
And for Lewis, it's going to be even hotter. With a sixth-place finish in the men's 100, his prospects dimmed in the 200, the long jump represents what may be his best chance of earning an individual spot in Barcelona.
Could America's greatest track star go to the Olympics as a spare in the 4 x 100 relay?
Improbable? Yes. Impossible? No.