Track and Field: Is Prep Phenom Mary Cain USA's Next Great Mid-Distance Star?

Red ShannonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2013

Photo: Don Rich
Photo: Don Rich

It can be dangerous to pencil in a 16-year-old schoolgirl as the next Mary Decker.

Dangerous for the kid, who is just awakening to the pressures of adulthood—let alone the pressures of unrealistic expectations.

And dangerous for the pencil-pushing pundit, who has probably used the blunt, rubber end of the pencil more than the sharp end.

But in the case of Mary Cain—the sensational teenage runner from Bronxville, N.Y.—the element of danger is substantially reduced on both counts.

Cain, a high school junior, is already the national high school record-holder in the girls 1,500-meter run (4:11.01) and the unofficial indoor high school record-holder at 3,000 meters (9:02.10).

In the latter, she defeated professionals, collegians and fellow high schoolers in Seattle last week. That record is currently the second-best time in the world.

Beyond her fiercely competitive spirit and natural running ability, Cain's chances of approaching Decker-like notoriety are enhanced by the long-range "simmering stew vs. microwaved noodles" coaching philosophy of distance legend Alberto Salazar.

Salazar is also a mentor to Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah (5,000 and 10,000 meters) and American 10,000 meters record-holder and Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp.

Quite the stablemates for Cain, yes?

This coming weekend, Cain could give the world a glimpse into the future. She goes after Debbie Heald's 40-year-old American high school indoor record in the mile (4:38.5) at the New Balance Games at the Armory in New York.

If she accomplishes that prestigious goal, Decker's 800-meter high school record (2:01.8) can't be far from Cain's sights.

The meet starts at 9 a.m. ET on Saturday, Jan. 26, and it will be live-streamed by Flotrack.

UPDATE, Jan. 26:  Mary Cain demolished Heald's record with a 4:32.78 clocking. Enroute, she also broke Lynn Jennings' national and junior mark for 1500 meters in 4:16.11 by over two seconds.

In related news, at the Boston University Terrier Invitational, Galen Rupp became the fifth-fastest indoor miler ever, winning his race in 3:50.92.


Looking Ahead

Cain will have another chance to make history on Saturday, Feb. 16 at the 106th Millrose Games in the same Armory. She's entered in the mile against a loaded field, including Jordan Hasay, Sheila Reid and Emma Coburn.


In 1982, Mary Decker (Slaney) was the fastest American woman in every distance event from the 800 meter to 10,000 meter.