Junior track phenom sets all-time record, then has it taken away by technicality

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

On Saturday, superstar prep speedster Mary Cain set a new all-time national schoolgirl record in 3,000 meters. Hours later, she learned that she hadn’t set a new record at all, though not because of her time. Instead, Cain’s blazing run will not be officially recorded for what seems to be a rather esoteric reason: She earned it on a track that was deemed to be oversized.

Superstar teen track star Mary Cain, whose 3,000-meter record will not be recognized — NationalScholastic.org
Superstar teen track star Mary Cain, whose 3,000-meter record will not be recognized — NationalScholastic.org

As reported by USA Track and Field and a variety of other sources, Cain, a Bronxville (N.Y.) High junior phenom, won the 3,000 meter event at the Dempsey Indoor event in Seattle, Washington. Despite traveling across country for the run, Cain recorded a blistering 9:02.10 in the 3,000-meter race, a whopping 15 seconds better than the previous prep indoor record for that distance, which was set by Melody Fairchild in 1991.

In fact, Cain’s time was so fast it was even better than the current outdoor track record for that distance, which stands at 9:08.6, dating back to 1975 (that mark was run by Lynn Bjorklund).

Yet, no matter how fast her time was, Cain will have to repeat the feat at a future meet to earn the all-time prep record. That’s because the indoor track at use in Seattle was 307 meters.

Just how much bigger is that 307 number than more traditional high school indoor tracks? Most high school tracks indoor tracks tend to top out at around 200 meters, a distance that requires eight full laps per mile, or 15 in Cain’s record-setting race. Comparatively, the 307-meter track required just 10 laps to finish the race.

That meant fewer turns and, in theory, more chances for Cain to burn straight speed and reach her record time. Still, to keep the mark out of the record books altogether -- as opposed to putting in her mark with an asterisk or some other footnote -- seems a bit unfair, particularly given the stunning amount she broke the previous mark by.

Luckily for all involved, this won’t be the last time the public gets to see Cain put together a blazing run at the record. In fact, in just a few weeks the teen will be pitted against some of the world’s best middle distance runners in Boston, taking on professionals in the 2-mile event at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston. Cain, who is coached by distance running legend Alberto Salazar, will be facing off against Olympians and a host of top runners from the likes of Ethiopia and Kenya.

Given her age and still burgeoning talent, it seems likely that Cain will make another run at the 3,000-meter race, too. It just might be a bit harsh that she isn’t already recognized as the best runner at that distance the prep ranks have ever seen.

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