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KERRY EGGERS ON SPORTS



I was at Mount Hood Community College Thursday night for the Stumpton Twilight distance-running meet, with particular interest in watching three of the competitors — Mary Cain, Galen Rupp and Edward Cheserek.

Cain is the former New York prep phenom who moved to Portland two years ago to train with Alberto Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project, then left after a year to return to her home state.

Rupp is the Central Catholic High and Oregon grad who holds the American 10,000-meter record and won the silver medal at the distance in the 2012 Olympic Games.

Cheserek is the U of O sensation who rivals Rupp as the Ducks’ finest distance runner since Steve Prefontaine, with 15 NCAA cross country and indoor and outdoor track titles.

For Cain, 20, the Stumptown Twilight was a training session to gauge where she is two weeks before the Olympic Trials at Eugene’s Hayward Field. Cain — who set the American junior and high school 800 record of 1 minute, 59.51 seconds at the 2014 Prefontaine Classic — is entered in the 1,500 at the trials.CAIN

The Bronxville, New York, native doubled Thursday night, finishing third in the 1,500 in 4:13.16, and 40 minutes later placing 11th in a strong 5,000 field in 15:49.20.

The 1,500 was staged amid a driving rain storm that reminded me of some of the March meets I’ve covered in Eugene, albeit with the temperature 20 degrees warmer. The torrential downpour began before the opening 800 events and continued until just before the final two races — the women’s and men’s 5,000s.

Since 2014, when she was runner-up in the 1,500 at the U.S. Championships and won the 3,000 at the World Junior Championships at 18, Cain has struggled to find her form. After running the 1,500 in 4:10.84 in Boston on June 17, she was buoyed.

“The whole point of this meet was to do a workout,” said Cain, a bubbly personality who is a delight to interview. “I felt really good after Boston. We knew coming into these next couple of races I had to do a bit of quick fix to my training.

“We made some mistakes during the winter and didn’t adjust. I didn’t build up enough of a base, so I’ve gone into this fast track of mileage. But every week I’m feeling better and better.”

Cain is being coached by her long-time New York coach, John Henwood, with help from Salazar. Henwood has been involved since her early years of running. Salazar came aboard in 2012, a year before Cain turned pro while she was still in high school. She moved to Portland, attended the University of Portland for the 2014-15 academic year and trained with the NOP group. Poor results on the track influenced her to move back home.

“I grew up in New York,” Cain said Thursday night. “It worked for me. I love Alberto, but it was a little too much, too soon. I’ve learned it’s OK that you have comfort zones. It’s OK that some places, you just train better and race better.

“For me, it was like, ‘I have to do this (train in Portland).’ But I didn’t have to. I finally realized that there’s no one path. Alberto has been really supportive throughout, so why not (return to New York)?”

School was not the issue. Cain is now attending Fordham.

“I really enjoyed my time at UP,” she said. “It’s a small Catholic school, pretty much the same as Fordham, my dad’s alma mater. When we were looking at schools out here, we visited UP, and my dad immediately said, ‘I feel at home here. I’m OK with you going here.’

“So it never had anything to do with the academics. I transitioned well there. But overall, (Portland) wasn’t quite the right fit.”

The weather for Thursday night’s 1,500 “was just awful,” Cain said with a laugh. She led for the middle part of the race, was passed by several runners, then recovered to finish third.

“I made some mistakes,” she said. “I probably shouldn’t have led. I felt like, ‘Maybe I can still run a 4:06 in this.’ Unrealistic, but I went for it. I’m really happy with how I closed.”

The plan was for Cain to run 3,000 of the 5K race, but she felt good at 3K, “so I thought, let’s push it a little bit,” she said. “I might as well keep with it.”

Her time was only four seconds shy of her personal record in the race. Not bad for her second event of the hour.

“I tightened up the last three laps,” she said. “My legs started to lag. In a perfect world, I’d have gotten the Olympic standard (15:24), but that gave me some confidence that I’m capable of running under that.”

Cain isn’t qualified for the trials in the 5,000. For now, she’ll be concentrating on the 1,500. Her PR is 4:04.62 as a prep senior, but her 2016 best at Boston leaves her shy of the Olympic qualifying standard of 4:07.

“I’ll have to chase that at the trials,” Cain said, smiling again. “But my attitude is, ‘If you’re going to make the (Olympic) team, you have to be able to do it in the trials.’ It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact of life.”

If Cain can finish among the top three in Eugene and get the Olympic standard, she’ll write her ticket to Rio de Janeiro. Henwood, she said, has helped restore her confidence and her racing form.

“John has been amazing,” she said. “He has helped rescue the season for me in a lot of ways. We knew going into it that meant it would be a little bit of a crunch, but I’ve always treated this as a long-term thing. Nothing has changed that.

“I feel like after a couple of years of being a little bit off, I’m finally turning the switch on. I’m hoping that means in two weeks the engines are really revving. But no matter what, I know I’m on the right path, which is the important thing.”TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - RUPP

No question, Rupp is too. It’s hard to believe he is 30 now, married, the father of a young boy and in the middle stages of a career that has brought him to the pinnacle of his sport in the U.S.

In February, Rupp won the first marathon of his career at the U.S. Olympic trials in in Los Angeles. He’ll attempt to double in the 10,000 at Rio, and I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t give himself the opportunity by placing among the top three at the trials.

Rupp looked fine in Thursday night’s 5,000, but not as sharp as Syracuse sophomore Justyn Knight, who overhauled Rupp in the final stretch to win in 13:26.36. University of Portland’s Woody Kincaid (13:27.32) nipped Rupp (13.27.34) for second.

“It was a good race,” Rupp said afterward. Knight “closed really well.”

Rupp has been training at altitude with Salazar’s NOP group for most of the last month. Is he ready to tackle the challenge of doubling at Rio should he qualify in the 10K at Eugene?

“Not worried about it right now,” he said. “Just focusing on the 10K. That’s the only thing that’s in the near future. But training has gone really well. I’ll be ready to go.”

Rupp has a structured summer ahead of him. Not so with Cheserek, who recently completed his junior season at Oregon with his third straight NCAA 10,000 title and second consecutive 5,000 crown.

Cheserek placed seventh in a loaded 1,500 field Thursday night in 3:41.57. As the heavens unloaded wet stuff on them, Ex-Ducks and 2012 Olympians Matthew Centrowitz (3:37.81) and Andrew Wheating (3:40.22) went 1-2.

“It was OK,” Cheserek said as he donned sweats after the race. “Just came out to run as fast as I can.

I was actually getting myself ready for a 3K, but they didn’t have it, so I decided to move down. I just made the decision (Wednesday).

“I got boxed in a little bit (on the back stretch). I was trying to get out, but I couldn’t. Then it was just try to finish the race. I wanted to run really fast, but I hate running in the rain like that.”CHESEREK

Cheserek dealt with some undisclosed injuries through the outdoor season before finally closing with a bang at the NCAA meet. What kind of shape is he in now?

“OK,” he said. “Not in good shape. Not out of shape. Just in the middle of getting into shape.”

But for what?

Cheserek, 22, was born in Kenya but moved to Newark, New Jersey, at age 16 in 2010. For now, he seems like the man without a country, at least in running terms.

Has he gained U.S. citizenship?

“Still working on it,” Cheserek said.

Can he run for Kenya, then?

“No comment on that,” he said.

Irrelevant, I suppose. The Kenyans have most of the world’s top runners in all the distance events, so Cheserek almost surely wouldn’t be a factor in the bid for spots at Rio. So what does his summer racing schedule look like?

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I still have to sit down with my coaches and discuss what we want to do.”

Which coaches? His coaches at Oregon?

“No comment,” he said, curiously. “Sorry about that.”

Man, I thought. This guy has more “no comments” than a politician.

Cheserek rose to leave the area.

“I have to go cool down now,” he said.

One more question. Are you definitely going to be back at Oregon for your senior year?

“No comment on that one, too,” he said, a walk turning into a jog.

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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