Mary Cain Takes Next Step Toward United States Distance Running Supremacy

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Mary Cain Takes Next Step Toward United States Distance Running Supremacy
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Normally, a 10th-place finish in a track race is not cause for excitement. But when it comes to running, Mary Cain defies normalcy. She only beat two of 11 competitors at her most recent event. And yet, it’s reason for extreme optimism. It’s further evidence that Cain is on her way to becoming one of the top distance runners the United States has ever seen.

Consider the context. The race was the 1,500 meter final at the 2013 World Track and Field Championships in Moscow. Cain is 17 years old. The senior at Bronxville High in New York runs fearlessly. After her 10th-place effort, Cain proclaimed, per M. Nicole Nazzaro of Runner's World, “I was running to win! That’s crazy, I know.”

Maybe true.

As fast as she’s progressing, though, Cain has every right to have faith in her ability. Give it a few years, and the rest of the world might believe as well. The accomplishments already achieved by this standout runner are astonishing, even groundbreaking for U.S. distance running.

Cain is not simply a 1,500-meter specialist. She’s versatile. Need proof? Within the past year, she’s notched national high school records at 800 meters, 1,500 meters, the mile, 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters.

Just qualifying for the 1,500 final at the World Championships was no easy task. Coming off an impressive second-place finish at the USA Track and Field Championships, Cain survived her opening heat and the semifinal round to advance to the final in Moscow.   

Key to any runner’s development is coaching, particularly for younger athletes. Cain has taken advantage of the opportunity to be directed by one of the world’s best, Alberto Salazar. A former running great himself, Salazar mentors elite distance runners including Mo Farah and Galen Rupp.

Salazar sees a wealth of potential in Cain and tells Ken Goe of The Oregonian she’s very coachable: “She is very smart, and long term-goal oriented. She completely buys into the idea that we should look to her development long term.”

Inevitably, Cain has drawn comparisons to past American distance running stars like Mary Decker Slaney. That’s understandable, but it’s important not to dwell on such comparisons. Yes, Cain’s a prodigy. But her running career is likely barely underway.

The limits seem endless for Mary Cain. If she follows the path she’s on, world titles and Olympic medals could soon be within her grasp.

She just needs to finish high school first.

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