Monday, November 30, 2015

V 5 N. 117 Adolph Plummer RIP 440 World Record University of New Mexico

We received word tonight that former 440 World Record holder Adolph Plummer has passed away.
Pete Brown, Mr. Plummer's friend and former teammate has written about Adolph in the past, and we feel it is Pete who is best equipped to memorialize Adolph Plummer on our pages.  We celebrate this great man.    George and Roy

From Our Friend Pete Brown

I shared the pride of being Adolph's teammate from the time I first met him
rooming across the hall in Coronado Dorm in the fall of 1959, the night of
the great WR on May 25, 1963 and throughout his life. A statue to Adolph
seems like a splendid idea and Julia and I will contribute with pride. We
send deepest sympathies to Adolph's loving wife Carolyn and all family

I am enclosing a recap of Adolph's track career I wrote a couple of years
ago for a track blog. The times are astounding even today, and we are
talking cinder and dirt tracks. Please note that Ed Lloyd was in the WR race
with Adolph that night, giving him an extra appreciation of how fast it was.
My two page report goes back to Adolph's upbringing in Brooklyn, his
introduction to the sport of track while serving in the Air Force and some
astounding achievements in track you may not be fully aware of. We truly
sorry to lose this wonderful teammate, educator and friend.

A special thanks to John Cordova for his steadfast friendship with Adolph
and Carolyn.

Pete Brown, class of 1963

That World Record

University of New Mexico Track Reunion
Adolph Plummer front row kneeling in White Sweat shirt
Pete Brown kneeling in front row left side
Wayne Vandenberg just over Pete's left shoulder

The Western Athletic Conference, formed in 1962, featured a number of very good track teams, among them University of New Mexico and Arizona State U. The first ever WAC outdoor track championships were held at Tempe, AZ, on Goodwin Stadium’s black cinder track on May 24-25, 1963. The finals were held on a warm and windless evening, perfect for the long sprints, with the stands packed and all eyes on the start of the 440 yard dash featuring an Olympic style long straightaway. The sterling field had stars Ulis Williams of ASU in lane three and Adolph Plummer of New Mexico in lane four. Based on past meetings and PRs, Williams went to the line that evening a slight favorite. When the crowd finally hushed and the gun went off, Plummer took the lead, passing the 220 in a quick 21.7 with Williams close behind in second.
As a teammate and close friend of Plummer, I took a special interest in this race. I attended my first big meet in the LA Coliseum at age 11  in 1950 and had been an avid track fan ever since. Along with a host of my teammates, the excitement of this particular 440 race proved to be the highlight of our careers. It most certainly proved to be that for Plummer, who at age 25 was ready for a never-to-be forgotten race.  
Born January 3, 1938, in Brooklyn , NY , Adolph did not involve himself in any organized sports as a youngster. He joined the USAF three days after graduation from Manuel Training HS in his hometown. While stationed in Tripoli , Libya , in 1957, Adolph would run to work every morning with a friend who was the North African AF sprint champ. When they broke into an occasional sprint, the friend could not keep up, and urged him to come out for the track team with promises of visiting Greece , a place young Adolph had always dreamed of seeing, as a reward for merely running some 100 yard dashes. It beat hell of out of normal AF duty for a lowly enlisted man.
By the spring of 1959, Plummer had progressed to the Air Force championships in Denver and soon after posted a 21.0 220 in a heat in the AAU meet in Boulder , his PR at the time. Several colleges showed serious interest and Adolph, along with half-miler Jim Dupree, chose UNM in Albuquerque . I met them while rooming right across the hall in Coronado dorm. Seemingly carefree, Adolph quickly established a reputation as team comedian. Workouts were, for the most part, a place where a captive audience was bombarded by an endless stream of his New York style quips and jokes. However, by the close of his sophomore year of 1962, he had managed to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with by winning the NCAA 440 in Philadelphia in 46.2 and getting third in the AAU in hometown New York in 46.8 behind high school standout Ulis Williams’ 46.3. Williams would become Plummer’s chief rival within two years. 
His junior year of 1962 featured great duels with Earl Young of Abilene Christian. Adolph started showing world class speed that season, although it took him at least 60-70 yards to get rolling. At Abilene Christian on April 14th he ran a wind-aided 20.0 and four days later beat the great Henry Carr in Tempe in 20.3. On May 11th in Albuquerque , in front of what most onlookers estimated to be a crowd of at least 12,000, Adolph defeated Young, both running 46.6, but lost the 220 by a step to Dennis Richardson in 21.0. His most memorable performance of the season was at the Skyline Conference meet in Denver on May 26th where he won the 440 in 46.2 and anchored the mile relay to second place, making up 35-40 yards in a split of 44.4. Coach Hugh Hackett had a reputation of being very precise with the stopwatch and was miffed when T&F News chose not to print that mark---unable to get their heads around a carry that fast. Adolph went on to get 5th in the AAU meet in Walnut on June 23rd in 46.4, won by the then unbeatable Ulis Williams in 45.8.
Plummer’s senior year arrived in 1963. Married with a young daughter, he showed a more serious attitude about his studies, but still wisecracked through the few workouts he chose to attend. Coach Hackett found a way to get him in shape however, running Adolph as anchor in the 440 relay (a new event for dual meets in 1963), the open 440 and 220 and anchoring the mile relay, week after week. UNM pointed only to dual and occasional triangular meets and participated in none of the big relay carnivals at Penn, Drake and Mt. Sac . Winning a big dual meet in early April was fully as important to Hugh Hackett as any national meet in June.  
Plummer ran both relays and posted 46.2 and 20.7 marks in Abilene on April 20, 1963. In Albuquerque on May 10th, again against Abilene Christian (rival Earl Young had graduated), Adolph ran the same four event slate with 46.7, 20.3 marks and a 46.3 mile relay anchor. A week later, in the Coliseum Relays he ran a 44.7 mile relay split. Those of us close to the scene were sure something very big was about to happen. Constant speculation of what Adolph was ultimately capable of occupied the thoughts of teammates, fans, friends and more than a few opponents.
Going back to where this account started, the final 220 yards of the climactic showdown in Tempe on May 25th, it was obvious that being in lane 4 and on the outside of Ulis Williams that night was all important for Adolph who knew it was now-or-never to run his race. And run he did. By the 300 mark Williams was unable to maintain the blistering pace. Plummer literally ran away from him, maintaining perfect relaxation and leg speed in winning by a full eight yards. Coach Hackett came running out of the stands on the backstretch, watch in hand, yelling “44.9; 44.9”. The fans, many of whom had stopwatches as well, knew that history had just been made. A long period of time ensued, punctuated by endless hugs for Plummer and celebration in the stands, before the results were finally announced with high drama: “In 4th place Tobler, BYU, 46.5; 3rdplace Freeman, ASU 46.2, second place surpassing the current world record, Williams, ASU 45.6 and first place, with a new world record of 44.9, Adolph Plummer, University of New Mexico.” Eight tenths had been shaved from the 440 record of Glen Davis, and Plummer had run the equivalent of 44.6 400 meters, three tenths under that existing record.
Fifty years have passed and many of us wonder what kind of time Adolph would have been able to achieve given a rigorous training regimen, use of resistance training for added strength, state-of-the-art nutrition, modern shoes and most important, today’s synthetic running surfaces. From this writer’s point-of-view, he would have been able to compete with anyone who has ever run the event, world record holder Michael Johnson included. We’ll never know, but speculating is always fun.
Thank you, Pete 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the wonderful write-up.

J. Pattyn (cousin to Adolph)

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