High schooler Mary Cain opts to turn pro

After a 2013 track season loaded with American high school and under-20 records, a USATF Indoor mile title and a 10th-place finish in the 1,500-meter final at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, 17-year-old middle-distance runner Mary Cain has decided to become a professional athlete.

"For the past couple of months, my family and I have been debating whether I should compete at a collegiate or professional level going forward. I have decided, and am truly excited to announce, that I will be turning pro," Cain said in a statement released by Ricky Simms, who will serve as her agent.

"It was definitely a hard decision to turn professional,” Cain later acknowledged in an IAAF website interview. "I was only looking at a few schools and narrowed it down to the University of Oregon," though as a pro she won't compete for the school.

"Having a great choice made me more excited, and I knew it would be a great opportunity.

"Some people might say that I won’t have as much fun by turning pro early, but I've had such an amazing year. I was looking at both options and both were great, but I wanted to continue what I've been doing, and I felt that the next step was to go pro. My plan is to be in Portland because I love the group I'm with."

Cain is already anxious to get back to racing.

“This indoor season will be a testing opportunity for me," she said. "The 2013 season has only just finished, but it already feels like a long time."

Cain is the youngest athlete ever to represent the United States at the track and field world championships, and is still a student at Bronxville High School in New York's Westchester County. Her father, Charles, said in the release from Simms, "how to proceed was always going to be a difficult choice. Mary is a straight-A student and will be pursuing a college education while competing. This remains a priority and we think this approach is the best way to balance her educational and athletic goals."

As the scholastic cross country campaign began, it was believed that Cain might even show up at the season-ending Nike Cross Nationals in Oregon. But in late October, her coach, Alberto Salazar, said, "Mary will most probably not run any cross country races. She's doing a remarkable job changing her form, but in order to handle it and not risk injury, she's only up to five miles a day. And the workouts are not very fast as well."

Elite runners reacted to the news with little surprise.

"The few times I have spoken with Mary, I was really impressed with her humble and somewhat goofy demeanor," middle-distance runner Morgan Uceny wrote in an email to Runner's World Newswire. "And I mean this in the best possible way; for someone who was thrust into the limelight and was able to handle and enjoy all of her success."

Fellow middle-distance runner Jenny Simpson also offered her well wishes to Cain Friday.

"Mary has opportunities and choices in front of her that I couldn't have even imagined at her age," Simpson wrote in an email. "This is just the next exciting chapter for an already accomplished athlete."

Cain became one of the most publicized and popular track stars of 2013 while setting American junior records for 800 (1:59.51) and 1,500 meters (4:04.62) and the indoor mile (4:28.25), along with national high school records indoors for the 1,500, 3,000 and 2 miles, and the outdoor 5,000 meters.

She won the USATF Indoor mile in Albuquerque in March and placed second in the 1,500 in the USATF Championships in Des Moines in June, thus earning her trip to the world championships in Moscow.