Mary Cain seemed full of chutzpah, in a delightfully naïve way, when she talked after her first-ever race at the U.S. Track and Field Championships in June about making the top three and getting to Moscow for the World Championships in August.
Turned out she knew exactly what she was talking about.
So when you heard Cain, who is 17, talking about the way what happened in Moscow Thursday will carry over to Beijing, there was no longer any reason to smile at her youthful audacity.
Beijing is the site of the 2015 outdoor world meet, and Cain vowed she will be ready to kick some butt there.
Someone might think what Cain did in Moscow, getting through two qualifying rounds to become the youngest world meet finalist ever in the women’s 1,500 meters, was good enough.
And maybe that is why and how she got into the final.
Even if she also admitted to being among those who thought she might not get past the first round.
“I know I have to put things in perspective, and when I was on the (starting line), I was like, `So many kids my age would just die to do this,’’’ Cain said.
“But I am a tough person, and I expect a lot of myself. I was in there, and I was running to win.”
She finished 10th in 4 minutes, 7.19 seconds, as Abeba Aregawi of Sweden won in 4:02.67 and 2011 world champion Jenny Simpson of the U.S. took second in 4:02.99 after having set the pace for nearly the entire metric mile.
And Cain’s immediate reaction, in a TV interview with Universal Sports, was to talk about getting out of a funk because she was upset over the result.
A few minutes later, when Cain spoke with reporters in the mixed zone at Luzhniki Stadium, her prevailing emotion was a motivational anger.
“I’m not even sad,” she said. “I’m just like angry, and I think that is a good thing. I think this is going to make me super pissed for Beijing. I am going to go in there and try to kill as many people as possible.”
By then, the rising senior at Bronxville (N.Y.) High School will either have finished her freshman year of college running (likely for Oregon) or her first year of professional running (presuming she doesn’t turn pro sooner.) Cain already trains under pro coach Alberto Salazar, who is based in Portland.
This was her last race of a season in which she set about a trillion high school and U.S. junior records at distances from 800 to 5,000 meters before making the world team with a second at nationals.
Cain has run two 1,500s faster than she did Thursday – one in the world semis (4:05.21) – but none with more grit. She resisted all temptation to cruise home after losing contact with the leaders.
“Alberto said to me going into this, `Mary, you can win, you can come in 12th,’’’ she said. ``I came in 10th. . .I don’t know what happened.
“Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe it’s so when I go to Beijing, I’m not the terrified 19-year-old.’’
Cain tried to trick herself out of being a terrified 17-year-old by pretending everyone else in the race was 16 and thinking, `No way I’m going to let a 16-year-old beat me.’’’ The truth was only one of the nine who beat her was a teenager (19 ½), with the medalists ages 23, 26 and 23.
“I’m a student here,” she said. “(But) I’m definitely going to be disappointed.”
When she explained why, it was easy to recall she is still the kid who carried a yellow stuffed duck named Puddles at nationals, and that Puddles was filling in for a Pillow Pet.
Of the prizes given to the top three on the podium, the medal wasn’t what Cain thought about most.
“Darn it, I wanted to podium so I could get a toy mascot,” she said.