At the age of 17, US sprint sensation Candace Hill owns three individual global sprint gold medals as well as a world youth best in the 100m. She speaks to Ato Boldon for the latest episode of IAAF Inside Athletics.
“If it wasn’t for me running field day in elementary school, I wouldn’t be out here running at all,” Candace Hill tells Ato Boldon of her early days in athletics. Seeing their daughter excel in field day races encouraged her parents to sign Hill up for summer track, where she first experienced the science behind sprinting.
“Summer track was different for me, because my form was horrible. I was running like this,” laughs Hill, gesticulating uncoordinatedly. “I didn’t know that you needed all that technique just to run. Because I was just out there running.”
It wasn’t until high school that Hill realised the full extent of her talent: “10th grade year was when I finally put it all together and I saw those times just drop.”
Since then the teen has gone from strength to strength. In June 2015 she grabbed the world’s attention with a momentous 10.98 clocking at the Broooks PR Invite in Seattle. A month later the 16-year-old won double gold at the World U18 Championships in Cali, Colombia.
“I was so emotional because previously coming into the meet I ran that 10.98, so everyone was like ‘she has to win ‘cause she ran 10.98. If she loses, that doesn’t add up’,” Hill recalls.
“All the pressure was on me. It was my first international competition, it was my first time running against international girls, it was my first time running a prelim, semi-finals and finals in the same day. It was like ‘WOW’ all this is coming at me.
“So when I crossed the line first, it was a relief feeling, all the pressure just came off my shoulders and I was like ‘wow I’m a real world champion’.”
After breaking through the previous year, 2016 presented a new set of challenges. Hill signed a pro-contract with Asics, which means she is no longer allowed to compete in high school competitions. In 2015 she had run a whopping 38 races before worlds. In 2016 it was 12. And, for the first time in her young career, she had to learn to deal with disappointment.
Going into 2016, the Rockdale County High School student had one big goal: to qualify for the Rio Olympics, “especially in the 200”. But the US Olympic team is one of the toughest teams to make. Hill learnt it first hand.
“Not even making it to the finals in either race, that really hurt a lot,” she says with a lump in her throat. There was little time to sulk.
Redemption followed two weeks later at the World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where Hill added a further two global titles to her tally. Lining up as one of the youngest in the field, she took 100m gold in a championship record 11.07. It was the first time in eight years that the women’s title went to the US since Jeneba Tarmoh won the crown in the same stadium in 2008. A second gold followed in the 4x100m.
It was an important reminder of her potential.
“When I look out to the future I see myself winning a lot of world titles and also being on the Olympic team in 2020, hopefully, and performing well there,” she says with determination in her voice.
“I feel like my future is bright, I feel like, since I’m doing this at 17, I’m only getting stronger and faster.”
To hear Hill talk about being a perfectionist and trying other events, watch the full episode below: