The 18-year-old American will kick off the meet, held in Eugene, Ore., with Thursday’s 3000m.
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EUGENE, Ore. — Although born and raised in a suburb of New York City, 18-year-old Mary Cain considers Oregon her second home. A fresh graduate of Bronxville High School, Cain moved to nearby Portland in the spring to begin her career as a full-time athlete in the Nike Oregon Project training program under coach Alberto Salazar.
“Being able to be home, you know, in Eugene, I feel like this is kind of a second home to me, the whole Oregon area,” Cain told reporters in advance of the IAAF World Junior Championships, which open here at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon Tuesday. “I think the whole meet will give me a comfort level, a little bit of an advantage.”
Cain, who turned 18 on May 3, will be competing in her second IAAF World Junior Championships. In Barcelona in 2012, she finished sixth in the 1500m at the tender age of 16, running a then personal best of 4:11.01. A year later, under Salazar’s coaching, Cain moved to the top echelon of American middle distance running. Not only did she rewrite the American high school record book for every distance from 800m to 5000m, but she won the senior national indoor championship in the mile and finished second in the senior national outdoor championships at 1500m. The latter performance—a sit-and-kick affair—qualified her for the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, where she finished an impressive 10th as a 17-year-old. She was by far the youngest woman in that final.
Here in Eugene, Cain will step up in distance to 3000m, which will be contested as a straight final Thursday evening. She’s only run one outdoor 3000m, at this year’s USA Junior Championships, where she was an easy winner in 9:15.81 (she’s also run 9:02.10 indoors on an oversized track). It’s likely that she and coach Salazar are counting on her overwhelming finishing speed to get her onto the podium, likely pushed by the partisan roar of the Hayward crowd.
“It makes me a little more excited to come out and represent the U.S. on home soil,” Cain explained. “That last 100 meters when I’m kicking it in and I’m battling with some kid, it will definitely, hopefully, give me a little bit of an edge.”
Had Cain chosen the 1500m here, she would be a gold-medal favorite (she has a very grown-up personal best of 4:04.62). But Cain opted for the 3000m as a way to broaden her racing experience and take on a different challenge.
“I chose the 3000 because I thought it would be kind of fun to mix it up,” Cain said. “I typically run 8s and 15s; I consider myself to really be a miler. But I thought it would be interesting to go up. There’s a lot of really capable girls in this event, so I want to be challenged. I definitely think this will be a really awesome race.”
After her summer track season, Cain will return to school, taking a full load of courses at the University of Portland where she will be a freshman. She hasn’t decided on her major yet, but is looking to follow in the footsteps of her father, Charlie, who is an anesthesiologist in New York City.
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“Technically, I’m coming in as an undecided major, but I’m kind of leading down the chemistry path,” Cain revealed. “Luckily, I already have A.P. (advanced placement) credits coming in. So in the fall, I’ll probably take a heavier class load. Like, this upcoming fall I’m taking 19 credits.”
Cain, who is never short on words and speaks in rapid fire fashion, continued: “I love chemistry, I love sciences; my dad was a chem major as well. I like blowing things up in the lab, so it should be fun.”