Mary Cain, 17, keeps up with 1,500 field at nationals

Mary Cain was born two months before the opening ceremony of the 1996 Olympics.
Don Ryan/AP

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- In many ways, Mary Cain is just your typical high school kid, taking great pride in getting her yearbook signed by all her friends and asking to go to a water slide after workouts.

On the track, though, she's anything but your typical high school kid as she keeps pace with the top U.S. 1,500-meter runners at track nationals this week. She's also daring enough to believe that, even at 17 years old, she can earn a spot to worlds in Moscow later this summer.

"Of course, Moscow is on your mind," said Cain, who advanced to the final on Saturday courtesy of finishing second in her heat on the opening night of the championships.

The effervescent soon-to-be senior may be the next big name in women's middle- and long-distance running (she does both equally well), the one everyone expects to turn into the next Mary (Decker) Slaney.

Not that Cain of Bronxville, N.Y., gives it much thought. She's more concerned about whether she will take a ceramics class next fall.

At nationals, she also signed up to compete in the 800 and 5,000 - not because she was going to race in all of them, but simply so she could make up her mind at the last moment which one would give her the best chance to make it to Moscow.

So far, so good for her in the 1,500, where she followed training partner Treniere Moser most of the race on Thursday to advance to the final.

"This was amazing!" she said.

Cain is as energetic off the track as she is on it. Constantly smiling, she jokes about just about everything.

But there's no joking about this: Her talent. This has been quite a season for Cain, setting more than a dozen high school and American junior records. She recently became the first American junior to eclipse the 2-minute mark in the 800, finishing in 1 minute, 59.51 seconds at the Prefontaine Classic.

Cain also broke the 1,500 high school mark last month, crossing the line in 4:04.62.

For all of that, Cain has been selected three times this season as USA Track and Field's Athlete of the Week, tying sprinter Allyson Felix's record of three awards in 2012.

"She's doing something that no one has ever done and probably no one will ever do," Moser said. "I'm just happy to be a part of this journey."

Over the past month, Cain has been training in Park City, Utah, with members of the Nike Oregon Project, which also includes Moser, Galen Rupp and London Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah.

Cain keeps up just fine, too, during the grueling workouts set forth by Alberto Salazar, who supervises the group.

Afterward, she wants to go on a scenic hike.

Oh, that youthful exuberance.

"Just a young kid having a lot of fun," Salazar said. "We keep it loose. No pressure."

The training group recently added Jordan Hasay, who once held the distinction of being the "next big thing" in women's distance running. A high school star, Hasay attended the University of Oregon, where she became one of the most decorated track athletes in Ducks history.

Known for her braided long, blond hair, Hasay knows the pressure of being a talented and young distance runner.

"I think I can help Mary a lot and help her through some of the stuff I had to go through that was pretty hard," the 21-year-old Hasay said.

For instance?

"Being in the limelight," said Hasay, who finished second in the 10,000-meter final on Thursday. "If you don't run well, you're like, `You should talk about other people, not me.' But you just have to go with the flow. ... Trusting the plan for her and using her gift - that's what helped me."

Hasay's biggest advice to Cain is this: Remain a kid for as long as possible, don't be in too big of a hurry.

"I love that she's excited about getting her yearbook signed, that she wants to take ceramics next year," Hasay said. "Her classes and friends are important to her.

"She's going to be fine. She will be great."

Cain certainly thinks big. Last summer at Olympic trials, she fully intended on making the London team in the 800.

"I'm crazy. So I've always shot for the stars," Cain said, laughing.

And Moscow?

"Everybody wants to go to Moscow," she said. "I think my mom wants to come and run there.

"I'm going into this for the experience. Hopefully, in a couple of years, whether this (going to Moscow) works out, down the road, I'll know what to do. Hopefully, it will help me a lot."

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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