Her name is Mary Cain, she's 18, and she might someday be the best female runner in American history. A profile in the New York Times Magazine charts Cain's path from high school phenom—if a middle-distance record exists in that age group, she's probably broken it—to her decision to forgo NCAA eligibility and train as a pro under track legend Alberto Salazar. "Her gait, at top speed, is hypnotic," writes Elizabeth Weil. "Her legs, stacked with muscles yet wrapped in a silky sheath of youthful skin, are spectacular." But the idea isn't to rush things, but instead to have Cain—who is a freshman at the University of Portland, where few know she is a top-caliber athlete—peak at about age 25.
For instance, her best time in the 1,500 meters is 4:04.62. Salazar hopes to get her down to maybe 3:52. That, however, wouldn't break the world record of 3:50.46, set in 1993 by a Chinese runner in an era of rampant doping. Many consider that mark and other records of the era unbreakable. Not Cain. “I want to break them more,” she says, “as I know there’s a very good chance they weren’t done properly.” For now, however, she's got to get through what she calls the "growing pains" of being a skinny teen running against athletes with perfect physiques. As Weil concludes: "Until last year, she still enjoyed wunderkind status. Now she’s no longer a child, not quite an adult, the fastest of a cohort of fast young women, waiting for a future that’s slow to come." Click to read the full, fascinating profile. (Read more Mary Cain stories.)