ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With just the workmen tearing down the television equipment and a few fellow competitors to keep her company Sunday evening, 17-year-old Mary Cain did sprint after sprint, hours after the USA Indoor Track & Field National Championships had finished.
Paced by another runner, Cain ran back and forth at the track inside the Albuquerque Convention Center where she had just won her second consecutive 1,500-meter national title finishing in 4-minutes, 7.05 seconds, nearly-three-seconds ahead of runner-up Treniere Moser.
The precocious teenager from Bronxville, N.Y., turned Albuquerque into her personal track for a day as the 1,858 track fans in attendance enthusiastically cheered her to the finish.
“The crowd here is always amazing,” Cain said before USATF officials whisked her away from the media. “I have a fan base in New Mexico. Who would have thought? I really wanted to do it for them.”
The victory earned Cain a spot on the U.S. National Team that will be competing in the world championships in Poland from March 7-9.
And her performance make her optimistic about her chances.
“This really gives me a lot of confidence going into indoor worlds,” she said.
Turning in a solid performance at elevation is another cause for optimism, Cain added.
“I’m glad it was a fast pace,” she said. “I would have been fine if it was slower. I would have been able to keep my cool, but this just gives me more confidence that I can run a 4:07 at altitude. I still feel pretty good.”
Pole vaulter Mary Saxer also came out of the meet feeling pretty good after shocking herself with a first-ever victory over Olympic gold medalist and seven-time indoor national champion Jenn Suhr.
“I literally am kind of speechless,” Saxer said after clearing a personal best 15-5½, two inches higher than Suhr. “I am on cloud nine.
Beating Jenn is amazing but I know she didn’t have her best day, too.”
Still, knocking off an Olympic champ is cause for celebration.
“It’s my first national title,” Saxer said. “So I’m going to soak up the moment.”
Suhr, who set a world indoor record at this meet last year, “came over and gave me a hug,” Saxer said. “There’s really good team spirit between all the pole vaulters. We’re always competing against each other. She’s an amazing vaulter, obviously.”
Suhr said her goal during this meet, besides qualifying for Poland, was to work with some new gear and try out some new techniques.
“It was kind of good because we got to experiment with some things to get ready for Poland,” she said. “That was really the goal this year. That’s the meet we’re focusing on. We kind of trained hard going into this. Then we’ll taper off and get ready for Poland.”
Suhr handled the runner-up finish rather stoically.
“Every year has its own challenges,” she said. “Sometimes you’re in record shape. Sometimes you’re in shape to win the meet. So it all depends on what your goals are. I didn’t feel any pressure.”
If there was any pressure to be felt, it may have been by Lopez Lemong, who finished a disappointing fourth in the 3,000 on Saturday and wanted to make amends in Sunday’s 1,500.
“It’s always very hard to run in altitude,” he said. “It was a very slow time but I wanted to put myself into a very good position and go out and punch my ticket to go to Poland.”
And with one chance to do gone, Lemong had to take care business.
Saturday “was a bit slackish,” he said. “It was a good race but, again, we erase that off and get ready to go and turn a new page and represent our nation.”
Heading down the back stretch, “I looked into the monitor and I knew that it was going to be close so I just pushed through to the tape and it was great.”
After five consecutive years as host to the national championships, Albuquerque has already submitted bids for the next four-year block, said Dan Ballou, director of sports marketing for the Albuquerque Convention & Visitor’s Center.
“Albuquerque doesn’t get to have national championships all the time,” he said. “And this has become a premier event that the city has had the good fortune of hosting the last five years.”
The three-day event drew 3,511 this year, which is comparable to last year, Ballou said.
“We don’t get see Olympic athletes here too often,” he said. “And this brings people Downtown.”