NEW YORK (AP) _ The new-found freedom given Eastern Bloc track and field athletes has helped and hurt them, American distance runner PattiSue Plumer says.

Since being given the opportunity to keep most of their earnings, instead of giving virtually all the money to their federations, East German, Romanian and Soviet competitors have cashed in like an American hitting a million- dollar lottery.

On the other hand, those European athletes have become so anxious for the big money that they have competed in too many meets and their performance levels have deteriorated.

As an example, Plumer cited Doina Melinte of Romania, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist at 800 meters and silver medalist at 1,500 meters.

Melinte was the sensation of the 1990 indoor season, winning virtually every race in which she competed and setting world records for the 1,500 meters and the mile. Even early in the outdoor season, she was dominating, posting times for the 1,500 and mile which still are the year's best. But recently, she has been losing, including poor finishes in the European Championships and the Mobil Grand Prix final.

''When she's at her best, she is the best,'' Plumer said of Melinte. ''But she's been running every race there is to run.

''Before, the Romanian, Soviet and East German federations dictated what races she and the others had to run. Now, they (the athletes) are dealing with things they've never had to deal with before. And they're tired.''

Plumer hopes that they're tired enough so she can beat them in Saturday's Mercedes Mile on Fifth Avenue.

She is the only American in the field of 15 women, which also includes Melinte and teammate Viorica Ghican, Soviets Natalya Artyomova and Svetlana Kitova, Switzerland's Sandra Gasser and Britons Teena Colebrook and Christina Boxer Cahill.

The men's elite field of 18 also is outstanding, led by Britons Peter Elliott and Steve Cram, Moroccan Said Aouita, Americans Steve Scott and Jim Spivey, Spain's Jose Luis Gonzalez, East German Jens-Peter Herold and Ireland's Marcus O'Sullivan.

As another example of the difference between the Eastern Bloc athletes' attitudes of past and present, Plumer cited Heike Drechsler, the brilliant East German sprinter-long jumper.

Plumer said that in a recent meet at Rieti, Italy, Drechsler was supposed to long jump, but she didn't know that Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the Olympic gold medalist, also was scheduled to compete.

''She said she wasn't getting enough money to compete against Jackie,'' Plumer said. ''All the Americans there laughed when they heard that.

''The (the meet promoters) told her that if she didn't compete, she wouldn't get paid (appearance money). She wound up competing and she won.

''But now she knows what we have been going through for so long.''

Plumer is not awed or overwhelmed by the strength of the foreign competition lined up against her in the Mercedes Mile.

''Worrying about that kind of stuff can kill you,'' she said. ''I just try not to think about it. I race against these women all the time.''

Including last year's Mercedes Mile, when she finished seventh, behind six foreigners.

This year, though, Plumer thinks she will do better. She is coming off her best outdoor season, including victories in the national championships at 5,000 meters, the Goodwill Games at 3,000 meters and the Grand Prix final at 5,000 meters.

''When I saw the field, I wasn't too sure I was happy to be here,'' she said. ''It's the best field I've ever been aware of. No one who ran well over the summer isn't here.

''And I'm sure you'll see most of these people in the (1992) Olympics. I hope I won't be watching it (the rest of the field) from the back.

''I'm hoping for a fast finish - not like last year. If I had had a fast finish last year, I would have been there (among the top finishers).

''This time, a lot of people here are tired.''

Plumer finds it ironic that the race is being held on Fifth Avenue. A law counselor - she passed the bar in February - she works for the firm of Holtzman, Wise and Shepard, whose New York office is on Fifth Avenue, four and five blocks from the finish line. Plumer works in the company's Palo Alto, Calif., office.