Raising Cain On The High Plain
Mary Cain's Storybook Tale Continues
By Dave Hunter
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Without question, the highlight of the concluding day of the 2013 USA Indoor Track & Field Championships was the women's mile. The tidy field of seven included six seasoned professionals - and a 16 year old school girl. 90 days ago, a significant majority of track & field's hard-core fan base had barely a clue about Mary Cain, who she was, or even what event she performed. Now even a growing number outside the sport are becoming aware of this high school phenom. And today proved to be another coming-of-age chapter in Cain's growing "athletics" anthology.
Mary Cain wins the USA Indoor mile, photo by PhotoRun.net
In one of the strangest mile races you'll ever see, Cain controlled the race from the gun. Charging into the lead in what is becoming her opening salvo to stay out of trouble, Cain settled into the lead of a tight back that was traveling at barely over race-walking speed. Cain led the covey through the first quarter in 85 seconds as the older women simply keyed off the high schooler's loping pace. "I was kind of glad for the slow pace, honestly" an exuberant Cain admitted in the mixed zone. "I know I have a kick. And if nobody wants to go now. Well, good luck. We'll really kill it in," offered Cain with a dash of infectious teenage animation. And when the half was passed in 2:55, everyone knew this race wasn't tactical - it was bordering on the absurd. At 1000, the pace began to thaw as Sara Vaughn pulled even with Cain. A 72 second third 400 took the pack through three quarters in 4:07 as the race for the approaching finish line began in earnest. Cain successfully fought off Vaughn in Lap 7 with sub-30 second circuit. And when a misstep by Vaughn at the bell momentarily threw Cain's challenger off stride, it seemed to energize the young miler. Displaying toughness, Cain turned it on over the last lap to complete her final 400 in 58.8 for a dazzling - and surprisingly comfortable - victory.
Running the first three quarters like a school girl and the final 400 like a professional, Cain captured the national title with a finish time of 5:05.68 - the slowest winning women's mile time ever recorded in the history of the USA Indoor Championships. It didn't matter. "I don't worry about time. I go in there to race. And that's what I did today." Cain's Project Oregon teammate Treniere Moser - herself a multiple-time national 1500 champion - got up to grab second in 5:06.55, with Brie Felnagle and Sara Vaughn capturing the next two spots. In capturing the mile win, Cain became the first high school athlete since 2003 [Allyson Felix; outdoor 200] to win a U.S. indoor or outdoor track & field title.
Alberto Salazar - Cain's coach - never doubted her upstart's ability to finish hard with the professionals - some of whom are 10 years older - or more. Cain's coach never worried about his protégé's ability to handle an overly-tactical affair. "We had gone over it [the possibility of a very slow pace] before and if it was slow, she could outkick everybody. I think she is essentially in 2 flat 800 shape right now."
In the men's mile, the pacing was decidedly different. With Will Leer doubling back from his 3000 win of Saturday and Matthew Centrowitz in his second race of the afternoon, several other competitors considered a more spirited pace in this altitude setting as their best strategy. When Ryan McNiff took the race through the first quarter in 61.9, Macklin Chaffee decided to take charge. With a subtle tempo change, Chaffee led the field through 800 in 2:00. That pace at Albuquerque's altitude was taking its toll on several - including Centrowitz who, laboring in 8th place, was never a factor. Sensing an opportunity to possibly steal the race, Jeff See charged to the front with 700 meters remaining, passing three quarters in 3:00. As the runners began to string out, Cory Leslie grabbed the lead just before the bell lap with Craig Miller in chase close behind. On the final circuit, Leer - who had been methodically moving through the field - was closing on the lead duo. In contact with 100 to go, Leer kicked hard off the final turn to capture the victory - and his second national title in 24 hours. Leer's winning time was a stunning 3:58.79 as both Miller and Leslie - second and third - also dipped under 4:00. By the meet's conclusion, race officials were calling Leer's winning time the fastest American mile performance at altitude.
Eric Sowinski, USA Indoor 800m champion, photo by PhotoRun.net
A stellar 6-man field battled for the men's 800 title. Joe Abbott took it out hard passing 200 in under 24 seconds and hitting 400 in 52.26. Robby Andrews - with the year's AL in the 1000 - was predictably running last. The former University of Virginia star started to work through traffic on the third lap and was gaining ground when Erik Sowinski - the Millrose 600 champion - stormed into the lead with a powerful surge just before the start of the bell lap which he passed in 1:19. Sowinski flew over the final circuit - but a determined Andrews was reeling him in. Andrews' valiant sprint off the final curve fell just short as Sowinski got to the line first in 1:47.09 - for a .04 second winning margin. "I actually thought about leading the race, but Joe [Abbott] got out pretty fast," Sowinski confided in the mixed zone when questioned about pacing. Asked about his new national championship status, Sowinski - who works in a running store in Iowa City - responded, "I can't even put it into words. These last couple weeks have been a whirlwind." A disappointed Andrews was nonetheless gracious in defeat. "With 200 to go, I just made sure that I was within reach," Andrews explained. "Going into the last 100, I could feel momentum carrying me and I just came up a stride or two short. Sowinski made a great move and ran a great race."
Ajee Wilson, USA Indoor 800m champion, photo by PhotoRun.net
In the women's 800, 18 year old Ajee Wilson - yet another precocious teenager - won the national title with a wire-to-wire win in 2:02.64, holding off Chanelle Price [2:02.93]. Wilson - who confided that she wanted an honestly-paced final - took the early lead, passed 400 in 59.92, and never was headed.
Jeremy Wariner, USA 400m Indoor Champion, photo by PhotoRun.net
The men's 400 final proved to be a platform for redemption for Jeremy Wariner. The former Olympic champion over 400 meters - who always seems to run his best when he appears to be just a little angry - sent a message that whispers of any erosion in his long-sprinting performance are greatly exaggerated. Wasting no time, Wariner roared over the first lap to grab the all-important pole - so crucial in the indoor 400. Never threatened over the final lap, Wariner stopped the clock at 45.82 to capture his first national title since - amazingly - 2005. The veteran 400 runner was pleased with his performance. "I felt really good," offered Wariner. "I wasn't expecting to run in the 45s and this is what I wanted." Bershawn Jackson - expected to contend for the 400 title - was unable to finish he pulled up in obvious pain during the final lap.
Mary Wineberg, 400 meters, photo by PhotoRun.net
Disaster struck in the women's 400 final - spoiling what had been anticipated to be a duel between Ebonie Floyd and Mary Wineberg, the two fastest qualifiers from Saturday. In the final, as the runners rounded the second curve of the two-turn stagger and were jostling for the coveted Lane One position for the final circuit, it appeared that a runner clipped the back heel of Wineberg who went down hard. Without a significant challenge, Floyd breezed on to a 52.02 win and her first national title.
In the men's 60, Mississippi State's Dangelo Cherry prevailed over more experienced sprinters to win the national championship. Cherry's time of 6.49 just missed the WL 60 time of 6.48 - set by both Jimmy Vacaut and James Dasolu in Goteborg just the previous day - but was quick enough to unseat Darvis "Doc" Patton [6.50] for the American leader. "I think my body was more ready than my mind was," offered the new national champion. How was your start? "I am not sure. I kind of black out at the start." Wow.
In the women's 60, Barbara Pierre [7.08] edged Lekeisha Lawson [7.10] to gain the crown. Her winning time is a new AL - besting her previous AL mark by .01 seconds.
In the men's 60H, Omoghan Osaghae took the national title by clearing the barriers in 7.62. Brendan Ames was a step back in 7.72 while multi star Trey Hardee - running with the big dogs - finished in 7.74 for third in the event he passed in yesterday's final day of the heptathlon.
Aided by flawless technique, up-and-coming Nia Ali nipped Kristi Caitlin to claim the title in the women's 60 hurdles final. Ali's winning time of 7.93 put her .04 seconds in front of the Caitlin and .07 seconds ahead of Jenay DeLoach Soukup - yesterday's winner of the long jump.
Ryan Whiting, winning USA Indoor shot title, photo by PhotoRun.net
Ryan Whiting, the 2012 World Indoor Champion, dominated the shot put. Any of his four fair throws would have won the title. But his fifth round bomb of 21.80 [71'6¼'] was not only his personal indoor best, but the heave also bettered his 2013 WL mark of 21.59 [70'10"] set last month.
Michelle Carter's six throws in the women's shot put were the best of the competition. Saving her best for last, Carter heaved the ball 19.41 [63'8¼"] on her sixth and final attempt to capture her first national indoor title.
In the men's triple jump, Rafeeq Curry's second round jump of 16.45 [53'11¾"] gave him a lead he held through most of the event. But Joshua Honeycutt claimed the national title when - on his final attempt - he spanned 16.59 [54'5¼"] to snatch the victory.
In the women's triple jump, all 5 participants held the lead at some point during the event. It wasn't until NYAC's Amanda Smock uncorked a 5th round leap of 13.65 [44'9½"] that the battle for the national title was settled.
Inika McPherson won the women's high jump with a third round clearance at 1.89 [6'2¼"]. Sharon Day - who sealed her national pentathlon win on Friday - claimed the second spot with a 1.83 clearance [6'] - just slightly lower than her earlier pentathlon HJ clearance of 1.85 [6'¾"].
A third attempt clearance at 5.60 [18'4½"] gave Jordan Scott the men's pole vault title, besting Jake Winder's 5.55 [18'2½"]. Pre-meet favorite Brad Walker had a bad day at the office - finishing 8th with only a sole clearance at 5.35 [17'6½"].
It would be premature to declare that the 2013 USA Indoor Track & Field Championships signaled an inevitable changing of the guard. But a reflection upon the various outstanding performances from the likes of Nixon, Beach, Cherry, Wilson, Ali, and especially Cain can give all of us bona fide reason to be optimistic about the emerging young talent in our sport.