Mary Cain set to run, drive, walk, then fly away

Mary Cain

NEW YORK — Mary Cain is bringing Hemingway, an altitude tent and Puddles to the University of Portland.

There are just a few more tasks here in her home state before the self-professed science nerd hailed and cautioned last year as the next U.S. middle-distance prodigy begins her freshman year of college.

First, the Adidas Grand Prix on Saturday.

Cain, born three months before Michael Johnson‘s 200m-400m double at the Atlanta Olympics, will run for 2 minutes in front of loved ones at Randall’s Island, between East Harlem, the South Bronx and Queens. She’s a high school senior (for seven more days) a half-hour north of Icahn Stadium.

The distance, 800m, is the shortest of her gaggle of high school records (up to 5000m) plucked before she turned professional in November, hired Usain Bolt‘s agent and joined the Nike Oregon Project.

Cain, who eats pancakes before races and Starburst after, was the youngest American to make a World Championships team last summer and youngest athlete from any nation to make a 1500m final. She finished 10th.

“Next year will be more of a jump because all of a sudden I’ll be in college and in a new city and everything, but the literal idea and concept of actually going professional, it hasn’t changed anything for me,” the joke-cracking and swoosh-wearing Cain said sitting at a Grand Central Terminal hotel mezzanine floor table, to a dozen or so reporters Thursday. “I wanted it to be how it has been.

“I don’t really know what to expect these next few years. I kind of like that. I kind of like it being just a little bit of a mystery, for me and for everybody.”

Adidas Grand Prix schedule, broadcast information, key events

Cain is the youngest woman in Saturday’s 800m field, but only by 25 days. In May, she turned 18, took AP exams in literature, economics and Latin, enjoyed the Bronxville High School prom and somehow had enough energy to open her outdoor season 3,000 miles away at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., finishing eighth in an 800m.

“It was a struggle,” Cain said specifically of taking the AP Latin test in a room with the school crowd she runs with, other high honors students. “There were a lot of people I saw who were drawing very nice pictures.”

Does she feel Saturday’s meet is her last fling as a high school kid?

“Not really,” she said, pausing to build up a joke. “I still have the whole summer.”

More tests are coming. She’s interested in competing at the U.S. Junior Championships and World Junior Championships in July, both in Eugene. After that, more Diamond League races.

But the one that’s causing consternation, even two days before she runs at Adidas, is her driver’s exam. That’s next Friday.

“I can drive,” she said, reassuring reporters and herself. “I’ve driven on highways. I know what I’m doing, but it’s just a matter of passing the test. I can parallel park, but what if I don’t?”

The day after that she will walk at graduation at Bronxville High School, which Cain said does not do class rankings that typically determine which students give speeches.

“We’re a little too competitive for that,” she said.

Cain will leave Bronxville and miss the handwritten, advice-seeking letters teenage runners mail her. Also her family, especially her old white poodle, Albus Dumbledore (named after the silver-haired “Harry Potter” headmaster).

“I’ll be Snapchatting him,” she joked.

She will spend the summer keeping tabs on the World Cup (she has Brazil, Spain, Germany and Argentina in the top four places in her bracket) and gradually moving her life to Portland.

“I probably won’t have a roommate,” Cain said when asked about her dorm situation, “because I do sleep in an altitude tent.”

This is not an unusual setup for Olympic sports athletes. One of Cain’s early sports heroes when she was a young swimmer, Michael Phelps, has done the same to boost oxygen production. It was the idea of her famed coach, three-time New York City Marathon winner Alberto Salazar, who also guides Olympic medalists Mo Farah and Galen Rupp.

“My parents probably hate it, but hey,” Cain said. “My parents at first were just like, ‘You have to have a tent in your room?’ I was like, ‘It’s the new thing. Everybody’s doing it.’”

She will also bring less cumbersome but just as valuable essentials, such as Puddles, the fuzzy yellow duck she carried during interviews at last year’s U.S. Championships.

And the thoughts of Ernest Hemingway. Cain was recently discussing books with Salazar — “Some people in the Oregon Project are like, we don’t read books. I’m like, oh, OK, this is awkward,” Cain says — and her coach suggested “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” inspired by Hemingway’s experiences in the Spanish Civil War.

Hemingway opted to write for the Kansas City Star rather than attend college after graduating from Oak Park and River Forest High School in suburban Chicago.

Cain couldn’t tell you where and what distance she might be running next week, but she’s mapped out studying chemistry and taking 18 credits in the fall, the maximum number of class hours at some major universities.

On the track, there are times she feels her age.

“A lot of people are always like, ‘Oh, you’re only 18,'” said Cain, who gets recognized in airports now. “The thing is this, there are 17- and 18-year-olds who dominate swimming, gymnastics, tennis.”

Facts she was reminded of watching 17- and 19-year-olds win Olympic figure skating gold medals in Sochi on TV.

“Just because I’m 17 and, yeah, maybe I’m not at my peak for a runner, it still doesn’t mean I can’t compete internationally,” she said. “Whenever I’m having my poor Mary, I’m only a little kid moments, I kind of remember that. I remember Missy Franklin.”

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Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever

Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here with redactions.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

Diana Taurasi

Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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