There were two easy predictions for the women’s 2-mile race at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix on Saturday: Three-time Olympic gold medalist Tirunesh Dibaba would blow away the field at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, while high school phenom Mary Cain would set the national high school record.
Both Dibaba and Cain raced with a competitiveness and a confidence that turned those predictions into certainties well before they crossed the line.
Dibaba ran most of the race alone and nearly lapped the field, finishing three seconds shy of the meet record in 9 minutes 13.17 seconds. Cain, a 16-year-old junior from Bronxville, N.Y., took third overall, finishing in 9:38.68, topping the mark by more than 17 seconds.
She didn’t just break the scholastic mark, set by Melody Fairchild in 1991, she obliterated it with an impressive kick that is becoming a trademark.
“I wasn’t really keeping track of laps, so I just kept going and going,” said Cain. “Then, when I hit three laps to go, I was like, ‘Oh, gosh, still three more. But by then, I was feeling good and it was kicking time . . . I just take [the record] as a cherry on top for me.”
Last week, at the New Balance Games in New York, Cain shattered the 41-year-old national high school mile standard by six seconds. In the process, Cain also set the scholastic record for 1,500 meters (4:16.11), breaking the mark set by New Englander Lynn Jennings in 1979.
Cain is under the tutelage of Alberto Salazar, who guided Galen Rupp to the 10,000 silver and Mo Farah to the 10,000 and 5,000 gold at the London Olympics.
“I told Mary, ‘I don’t care what your time is today,’ ” said Salazar. “I told her, ‘I just want you to compete. Do the best that you can.’ ”
While many in the crowd of 3,250 came to check out Cain, the high school sensation was a bit star struck by Dibaba. Cain said it was “cool” to stand next to Dibaba at the starting line.
“I was kind of laughing at myself when I went out,” said Cain. “I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m beating an Olympian for two seconds.’ But it was really an honor to run against her.”
Dibaba who was also a teenage phenom, winning her first World Championship tittle at 17, came away impressed with the high schooler.
“I’ve heard about Cain before I came from Ethiopia,” said Dibaba. “She had a good run today. For the future, I think she’ll be extremely good.”
By running well ahead of the field, Diababa had a pretty good view of Cain’s race. Dibaba passed the mile mark in 4:39, while Cain and the chase pack that wasn’t exactly chasing Dibaba finished the first mile in 4:51. Still, that was almost seven seconds ahead of the high school record pace. As Cain separated herself from the old mark with every lap, she looked exceedingly comfortable.
Meanwhile, Dibaba was really in a race with herself for most of the 16 laps — Canadian Sheila Reid was a distant second in 9:37.97 — and that made it hard for Dibaba to reach her goal of setting a meet record.
“I thought the pacemaker would go faster, but that didn’t happen,” said Dibaba, through a translator. “So, I could have run faster. Running alone is a bit tough. When I broke the world record in the 5,000, I had good pacemakers. I would have liked to run faster, but I’m OK with this for my first race [of the season].”
Dibaba was not the only runner aiming for a record Saturday night.
Rupp hoped to set an American record in the men’s 3,000, but it was not to be. Nor was a much-anticipated showdown between Rupp and Ethiopian Olympian Dejen Gebremeskel materialize. Instead, in another impressive showing by a teenager, Gebremeskel’s 18-year-old countryman Hagos Gebrhiwet won the race in 7:32.87. Rupp finished second in 7:33.67, a little more than a second off the American record.
Rupp was right on American record pace when he reached the mile mark in 4:02.2 and right in contention for a win. But shortly after the 2,000-meter mark, Gebrhiwet took control of the race and Rupp fell behind.
Not even a late kick by Rupp that included a 59-second final lap could close the gap. Still, Rupp did run the second-fastest time in US history.
Salazar said Rupp was “still a little tired from last week,” but the coach was “pleased he could run 7:33 today.” Last week, Rupp ran a 3:50.92 mile, becoming the fifth-fastest miler in history. Considering Rupp, 26, made his name in much longer events and earned a silver in the 10,000 in London, the mile performance was all the more impressive. It also made the American record in the 3,000 seem well within reach.
“He would’ve liked to break the American record today,” said Salazar. “He’s just going to go compete. If the race is right, he might be able to break it. But he’s not going to go in with the idea of breaking the record and losing the race as a result.”
The men’s mile featured yet another US Olympic standout. In London, Matthew Centrowitz placed fourth in the 1,500, missing out on a medal by .04 seconds. The year before he earned bronze in the same event at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. On Saturday night, he triumphed in a tactical mile race in 3:56.26. Centrowitz ducked behind the pacer for half the race, stayed out front in the later laps and used a strong kick to hold off runner-up Will Leer (3:56.35).
“I didn’t expect it to be tactical, nor did I actually want it to be tactical,” said Centrowitz. “I’ve told you guys for a couple weeks now that I’m fit and I’m read to run fast. With the way the field went and the conditions today, I guess it just ended up being tactical.”
In the pole vault, Jenn Suhr tried unsuccessfully to break her own American record, but went home happy with a win at 4.76 meters (15 feet 7¼ inches).
“I’m pleased,” said Suhr. “It was good because I worked through stuff. Warm-ups were a little iffy, then I had to progress through heights and work on things. I got back into the meet atmosphere and all the chaos and had to sort things out.”
Murielle Ahoure continued her strong sprinting, setting a meet record in the women’s 60-meter dash. The Ivory Coast athlete finished in 7.07 seconds. “It’s unbelievable,” said Ahoure, who has run the three fastest times in the world this indoor season. “It just shows my training is going unbelievably well.”