Mary Cain

Can Mary Cain, 17, win a medal at World Championships?

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There are six finals at the World Track and Field Championships on Thursday and none bigger than the finale, the women’s 1,500 meters, where a 17-year-old American phenom has already made history.

Bronxville (N.Y.) High senior-to-be Mary Cain will line up at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium as the youngest woman ever to start the World Championship final of the 4-minute race (1:20 p.m. ET, Universal Sports).

Her ascent was the story of the indoor track and field season earlier this year. Cain, who placed 18th in the heats of the 800 meters at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, broke U.S. high school and junior records from 800 meters up to two miles in the winter and spring. She then became the youngest American to make the World Championship team by placing second in the 1,500 at the National Championships in June.

In Moscow, she placed sixth in her first-round heat Sunday to grab the final automatic qualifying spot for the semifinals Tuesday.

To make the final, Cain, known for her strong kick, executed a smarter race from start to finish than in her previous senior international races (not that she has much experience to draw from). She stayed within striking distance of the leaders and kept from getting boxed in. Then she used that strong finish to hold onto fourth in her semi, booking a spot in the final in 4 minutes, 5.21 seconds.

She’s only run faster once in her life, and the excitement and exhaustion showed in post-race interviews Tuesday.

“That was amazing,” Cain, mixing in heavy breaths, told NBC Sports reporter Lewis Johnson on Universal Sports. “The heats didn’t go really great, but I advanced. We did so much work in between the two (races) in terms of prep, and I felt like I went into (the semifinal) really ready. That was awesome.”

So, what are her chances in the final?

Her lifetime and season’s best is 4:04.62, which ranks 10th in the 12-woman field. Of course, championship finals tend to endure slow early paces (like nationals, where Treniere Moser won in a crawling 4:28.62), so you can’t put all the emphasis into personal bests.

The last three major international championship finals have seen the bronze medal winner run the following times: 4:04.18 (2009 worlds), 4:05.87 (2011 worlds) and 4:10.74 (2012 Olympics, historically slow).

The top four from the 2012 Olympics are not in the final, but the talent is still pretty strong. Abeba Aregawi of Sweden, who competed for Ethiopia at the Olympics, is the clear favorite, having won five Diamond League races this season. American Jenny Simpson and Brit Hannah England are the defending world gold and silver medalists.

It’s hard to predict, but Cain may very well have to repeat her semifinal performance to contend for a medal. That’s a lot to ask of a 17-year-old at the biggest meet of her life, to put together back-to-back near-personal best times. That Cain has already made it this far is certainly accomplishment enough.

But she’s got plenty going for her. Cain is coached by three-time New York City Marathon champion Alberto Salazar, who also oversees Mo Farah and Galen Rupp. She’s also received a little help from her U.S. teammates. In particular, Nick Symmonds, who is 12 years older than Cain and won silver in the 800 on Tuesday.

“He’s been so kind,” Cain said. “He said that after his (Olympic) semi, he was like, ‘Crap, there’s no way I’m running any faster, and he went out there and did two seconds faster (in the Olympic final).’ I look to him as a role model. So even though I’m exhausted, hopefully that means I’ve got more in the tank.”

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Ashley Wagner leads U.S. 1-2 at Skate America

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Ashley Wagner bolstered her international reputation again, winning Skate America on Saturday in her first top-level full competition since her world championships silver medal in April.

Wagner totaled 196.44 points over two programs in Hoffman Estates, Ill., holding off countrywoman Mariah Bell by 4.85 points. U.S. champion Gracie Gold was fifth. Full results are here.

“The short program was definitely one of my world-class programs,” Wagner said on NBC. “Long program, I left a little bit out on the table.”

Wagner, who led by 3.75 points after Friday’s short program, was flawed in her free skate, including singling the back end of a jump combination and under-rotating two more jumps.

Still it was enough to overtake Bell, who had the highest free skate score by 3.73 points but was sixth in the short program.

It marked the first U.S. women’s one-two in a Grand Prix event since 2012 Skate America (Wagner and Christina Gao).

“I’m starting to realize my own potential and believe in myself,” Bell, who shares a coach with Wagner, said on NBC. “I’m very excited for the future.”

Gold fell in both of her programs as she tries to bounce back from dropping from first to fourth at last season’s world championships. Gold had her lowest Grand Prix finish (excluding Grand Prix Final) since her debut at 2012 Skate Canada.

Wagner notched her fifth career Grand Prix series win (only Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen own more among U.S. women). Wagner joined Kwan as the only women to bag multiple Skate America and U.S. Championships titles.

The women Wagner must be compared with are Russian teens. Wagner ended a 10-year U.S. medal drought at worlds last year, but Russia still rules women’s skating.

None of the top Russians competed at Skate America. Wagner is slated to face 2015 World gold and bronze medalists Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Yelena Radionova at her next event, Cup of China, in four weeks.

The reigning world champion, Yevgenia Medvedeva, makes her Grand Prix season debut at Skate Canada next week. Medvedeva and Wagner could go head-to-head at the Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France, in December.

Earlier Saturday, Japan’s Shoma Uno topped the men’s short program with 89.15 points, landing one of his two quadruple jump attempts.

Uno, 18, was followed by the last two U.S. champions, Adam Rippon (87.32, no quads) and Jason Brown (85.75, fall on single quad attempt).

The men’s free skate is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC and NBC Sports app).

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Simone Schaller, oldest living Olympian, dies at 104

FILE - In this July 15, 1936, file photo, Simone Schaller, lower right, waves with members of the United States women's Olympic track and field team as they depart for Europe on the SS Manhattan. Schaller, an American hurdler who competed at the 1932 and 1936 Summer Games and was believed to be the oldest living Olympian, died of natural causes Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016,  in the Arcadia, Calif., home she and her husband built when they married in the 1930s, her grandson Jeffrey Hardy said, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. She was 104. (AP Photo/File)
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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) — Simone Schaller, an American hurdler who competed at the 1932 and 1936 Summer Games and was believed to be the oldest living Olympian, has died. She was 104.

Grandson Jeffrey Hardy said Saturday that Schaller died of natural causes Thursday in the home she and her husband built when they married in the 1930s.

Schaller tied Babe Didrikson Zaharias for the world record in the first round of the 80-meter hurdles at the 1932 Los Angeles Games. Schaller finished fourth in the final behind Didrikson, who set another record. According to Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, Schaller had taken up hurdling only three months earlier.

At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Schaller made it to the semifinals.

She won the hurdles at the 1933 U.S. Championships. She was also an avid tennis player.

Schaller had three children, seven grandchildren, a dozen great-grandchildren and numerous great-great-grandchildren.

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