While watching the Olympic Games on television last week, swimming fans in Wayzata and Minnetonka were gripped by the drama of the men’s 100-meter backstroke finals.
David Plummer, the head boys swimming coach at Wayzata High and also the assistant coach for the Minnetonka girls team, had a real fight on his hands.
In swimming, they call a photo finish a “touch-out,” and that was how this race ended for Plummer. His USA teammate, Ryan Murphy, won the gold medal, but the touch-out belonged to Plummer, who edged Australia’s Mitch Larkin by three one-hundredths of a second in the battle for third place.
That result gave Plummer the bronze medal.
Minnetonka’s head boys and girls swimming coach Dan Berve watched the race along with his family.
“I am so happy for David,” said Berve. “He is a really humble, genuine guy. To go into this as an Olympic rookie at the age of 30 and win a medal is amazing. David just missed qualifying for the 2012 Olympics. The last four years, he has trained hard to achieve his goal.”
Art Downey, Edina High’s boys swimming coach since the fall of 1956, has seen a lot of close races during his long tenure.
“I knew that Ryan Murphy won the [backstroke] race, but I couldn’t tell after that,” said Downey, who watched the Olympics on TV. “Thank goodness for electronic timing.”
Downey said the key to Plummer’s Olympic success was staying the course.
“David persevered after he barely missed making the Olympic team in 2012,” the Edina coach observed. “He beat the defending Olympic champion at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha to earn his spot on the team.”
Plummer, who swam collegiately at the University of Minnesota, graduated with the school record of 46.32 seconds in the 100-yard backstroke.
All races in international competition are in meters, rather than yards. Plummer’s time in the Olympic final was 52.40.
Born in Norman, Oklahoma in 1985, Plummer won multiple state individual swimming titles for Westmoore High School. He had the fastest time in the nation in the 100 backstroke in 2004, and that’s how he landed his scholarship to swim for the Gophers.
At the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Plummer had a small, but enthusiastic cheering section that included his wife Erin and his mother Kathy, along with other family members and a few friends.
The atmosphere at the swimming venue was electric, with many close races on both the men’s and women’s sides. The greatest applause was saved for Plummer’s most famous teammate, American swim icon Michael Phelps. However, fans cheered heartily when Plummer and Murphy climbed onto the awards stand to receive their 100 backstroke medals.
In addition to being an Olympian and a swimming coach, Plummer is the father of two young boys, Will and Ricky.
His extended family includes every swimmer he has coached at Wayzata High, Minnetonka High and in the Minnetonka Swim Club.
Plummer was touched by the mail and Facebook postings that encouraged him before his big race and congratulated him afterwards.
“Little by little, it has sunk in,” he said.
While Plummer starred at the swimming venue, another area athlete, Katie Johnson from Hopkins, was experiencing the Olympic Games outdoors.
Johnson was a first-time Olympian with the USA’s women’s rugby sevens team.
Rugby sevens includes seven competitors on a side. They grapple to advance the ball for goals, which are called “trys.”
Although the American women didn’t win a medal, they played competitively and wound up in fifth place.
Dan “DJ” Johnson, Katie’s father, was in Rio to watch the rugby matches for men and women.
“The women’s games were fantastic,” he said. “Our team tied Australia 12-12 and was beaten by New Zealand 7-5.”
The Americans defeated Fiji in the fifth-place match.
Katie, 24, a graduate of Hopkins High grew up watching her dad play rugby.
When she was in elementary school, she notice that there were no rugby teams for young girls, so she asked her dad to start one, and the rest is history.