This Teen Runner May Be the Best Ever, Someday

Magazine profile: 18-year-old Mary Cain on a long road to greatness
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 5, 2015 2:08 PM CST
This Teen Runner May Be the Best Ever, Someday
Mary Cain leads the field in the women's Wanamaker Mile during the Millrose Games, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in New York. Cain won the event with a time of 4:27.73.   (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

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.)

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