Promotion is the thing in track and field, a sport that in this country is experiencing increasing trouble drawing sponsors and fans.
Hence the pro-wrestling-like angle put forth for the women's mile to be run at the 33rd Sunkist Invitational indoor track meet, Feb. 15 at the Sports Arena.
A press release refers to the "stormy rivalry" between PattiSue Plumer and Suzy Favor-Hamilton. A videotape was played at a luncheon Tuesday, showing last summer's race in which Plumer and Hamilton ran the final 400 meters while furiously throwing elbows. Plumer fell at the finish line and Hamilton--who had beaten Plumer in similar fashion a few weeks before at the national championships--won.
Hamilton and Plumer were introduced to discuss their "rivalry," and each tried to pump it into something spicy and dramatic. Something it is not.
Eventually the real story emerged.
"Between you and me, I rather like the person sitting at the end of the table," Plumer said, referring to Hamilton. "But we aren't supposed to say that. It's not good for the sport. We are supposed to hiss at each other."
Plumer is a veteran of the sport and said she is willing to promote herself and meets, but this particular angle is not her favorite.
"I don't like it," she said. "I'm never comfortable playing the bad guy. But I do understand that it is much better if there is a good guy and a bad guy. People seem to like rivalries."
People also seem to mistake competition for rivalry.
Plumer was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1990 at 3,000 and 5,000 meters. She has been bumping into Hamilton, figuratively and literally, in the 1,500 because chances to run the longer distances are scarce.
Hamilton is a two-time national champion and won nine national titles at the University of Wisconsin. It was while at Wisconsin that Hamilton became an expert at getting out of 'boxes' during a race--that is, being able to run through or around another runner who could hinder her progress.
As a result of running out of trouble, elbows are thrown and runners are pushed.
"That happens," Hamilton said. "It's a part of running we are all prepared for. You don't see it too much in the U.S., but you see it in Europe."
Plumer said she would be happy to never run another race in which there is contact. For Hamilton, whose quickness helps her dart around and through trouble, bumping is part of the game.
So is pretending you can't stand your closest competitor, if it helps to sell tickets.
"We don't dislike each other, but we both know it's the way things are done," Plumer said. "But behind the scenes we're careful to say to each other, 'I hope you know I didn't meant that.' It could be worse."