World Athletics confirm Mary Cain’s switch of allegiance from US to Ireland

Cork City Sports, CIT Athletics Stadium, CIT, Cork 7/7/2015
The USA's Mary Cain running in the Women's 3000m
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Cain crop Mary Cain (©INPHO/Morgan Treacy/©INPHO/Morgan Treacy)

By Malcolm McCausland

The switch of allegiance by former teenage prodigy Mary Cain has come as a surprise to even the most tuned-in Irish athletics follower.

Cain’s clearance to represent Ireland after a notable career in the colours of the United States was confirmed by World Athletics from February 16 making her eligible for immediate selection.

However, that is unlikely to happen in the immediate future given that the 27-year-old has no known form since 2020 when she ran three indoor races in times mediocre by her own standards.

She might find it difficult to regain the form which saw her crowned World Junior 3000m champion in 2014.

Mary Cecilia Cain was born in Bronxville, north of New York City on May 3 1996, the daughter of Charles and Mary E. Cain, and has three sisters, Áine, Catherine, and Mairéad.

She has spoken of family ties to Westmeath and Kilkenny. Her running ability was discovered at Bronxville High School where she won a plethora of state titles as well as two national championships.

Prodigious by any standards, she ran the 800m at US Olympic trials in 2012, ranking 18th. Later in the year, she gained her first representative honour when she wore American colours at the World Junior Championships, breaking the US High School 1500m record.

It was around this time she came under the guidance of coach Alberto Salazar, at that time regarded the doyen of the art. That would change later.

Her career continued in 2013 breaking two minutes for 800m (1:59.51), and American and North American U18 and Junior record. At 17, she became the youngest ever to represent the U.S. at the World Championships, reaching the final in Moscow and again being the youngest to do so.

She was named “Youth Athlete of the Year” by the American athletics association (USATF).

The upward trajectory continued in 2014, breaking the World Junior 1000m indoor records on two occasions and lowering it to 2:35.80. Displaying her versatility over a range of distances, she was crowned World Junior 3000m champion in Eugene, Oregon running a personal best 8:58.48.

This saw her receive a multitude of offers from American universities but in the end, she opted to attend the honours program at the University of Portland, Oregon whilst competing as a professional athlete for Nike and cementing her relationship with coach Salazar at the Oregon Project.

While 2015 may not have been a halcyon year for her, she still ran world-leading Junior indoor marks over 800m (2:02.75), 1000m (2:38:25) and mile (4:31.31). That summer she toured Europe including a third place in the 3000m at the Cork City Sports.

She was back in Europe during the 2016 indoor season and visited Athlone for a third place in the 1500m (4:13.46) at the annual grand prix meeting.

However, she did not make the American team for the Rio Olympics, finishing 11th in the 1500m (4:13.45) at Eugene, Oregon. Cain did not compete in either 2017 or 2018 and only ran two four mile road races in 2019.

In November last year, she settled a reported $20m dollar lawsuit, filed two years earlier, with Nike and Alberto Salazar based on allegations by her that she suffered “emotional and physical abuse” at the coach’s hands.

At 27, Cain is still young enough to crank start her career and whilst unlikely to figure again at World level, she could be a more than useful addition to Ireland teams at European level.