MOSCOW - Mary Cain of the U.S. was wearing a brave but smiling face as she came in from the Luzhniki Stadium track Thursday night to analyze her 10th-place finish in the women's 1,500-meter final at the world track and field championships.
The celebrated Bronxville High School senior tried to tell the media contingent that she wasn't really disappointed in letting nine runners beat her to the finish line, that just running her way into the 12-runner final was a major accomplishment for a 17-year-old.
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"I'm a student here, I'm just learning from all this," said Cain, the youngest ever to make the 1,500 final at the world championships.
This simply wasn't her time.
Sweden's Abeba Aregawi, formerly of Ethiopia who had come to Moscow owning the year's best time of 3:56.60, won the race in 4:02.67. Jenny Simpson of the U.S., who won the 1,500 world title in 2011 in 4:05.40, improved to 4:02.99 in this race and settled for the silver. Kenya's Hellen Onsando Obiri, a 3:58.58 runner earlier this year, was the bronze medalist in 4:03.86.
Cain finished in 4:07.19 and never approached her season's best performance Thursday night.
Cain clocked a 4:04.62 in a meet at California's Occidental College in May. It was one of her many brilliant performances at distances this season from 800 meters to 5,000 meters that stamped her as the future of American track.
Good as that 4:04.62 was, it still put her only 26th on the world list heading into Moscow.
So perhaps it was unrealistic to expect more of her than 10th place.
But you'd never get Cain to admit it. She is an ultimate competitor with a fighting spirit that hasn't been seen by an American women's middle distance runner since the glory days of Mary Decker in the 1980s and 1990s.
"I'm kind of hard on myself," she said. "I'm going to put this energy to work in a good way. I'm going to direct it, I'm going to attack it, I'm ready to go."
But not right away. She'll cool it for a little while, knowing "it's been a long season."