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Catching Up With Candace Hill

by Jeff Hollobaugh

Candace Hill could not believe it herself: "After I broke the tape and came back, everyone was going crazy."

She was right to be stunned. She's still a kid, after all. She just finished her soph year of competition at Georgia’s Rockdale County High School.

Hill Candace PreC15After she crossed the Brooks PR finish line, she looked back and could not believe her eyes. The clock read 10.98, a time that would make sense near the peak of a woman sprinter's career, perhaps at an Olympic Trials or Games. She waited for confirmation. "Is the wind legal?" she recalls thinking, "because I cannot run a 10.98."

The stadium announcer at first said the wind was an over-the-allowable 2.4, and minutes later called it a record when the official results said 2.0.

Hill never even got around to setting the 11-second barrier as a goal. Now she has taken the American Junior and High School records into the rarified territory beyond at age 16. "In the last meet, I ran 11.21 with a [1.5] headwind, and everyone said, 'You're going to go 11.1 this meet, and so I was like, OK, my goal is to run 11.1."

But 10.98? "It hasn't even settled in yet. I'm still in shock. Everyone's on my Twitter. People are walking in saying, 'Congrats, congrats!' Did I actually just run a 10.9? That's like crazy fast."

Hill is refreshingly young to the sport. She was never one of these age-group stars that seem to dominate the sprints in the United States. When she was a kid, her parents knew she had some wheels because she won the races at school field days. Yet they kept her out of age-group track because they didn't want her to get tired of a sport after taking it up too young. The Hills weren't as big on sports as some other families: "My mom did cheerleading and my dad did a little bit of basketball."

Finally, in seventh grade, she got a chance to run on the middle school track team. "I had no background in sprinting. I wasn't the fastest. I was fifth-fastest on the team. My breakout moment was 9th grade after I won State. The training was different. I started lifting weights and doing intense workouts and I felt that improved my times." That 9th- grade year featured one other momentous race. In her first meet, Hill lost. That hasn't happened since.

By the end of her frosh season, Hill had won Georgia titles in 11.44 and 23.21. She followed up by winning the same double at New Balance Outdoors in 11.34w and 23.14. This season, her running has been even more auspicious. She clocked a 11.30 in early April, and again won her State double. in 11.34/23.05. She took both wins at the Great Southwest meet in Albuquerque’s altitude, hitting windy times of 11.15 and 22.76. Last week, she captured the adidas Dream 100 in 11.21.

Despite the rampant success, Hill still deals with terrible nervousness before races. "Every race. It could be the local I-know-I'm-going-to-win... If they have it, I'm going to get nervous for it. I just say, everyone else is nervous too and everyone else has to run the same 100m starting at the same line. I feel my nervousness helps me to go faster."

Hill's school is in the center of Conyers, Georgia, a former mill town of 15,000 a half hour southeast of Atlanta. They've never seen anyone like Hill. The school 100 record before she came along was 12.00—solid, but worlds behind Hill's latest. Her exploits on the track have given her an identity in the halls of her school. She's recognized. "After I won State as a ninth-grader, everyone was like, 'Oh, hey, Candace!' " She laughs before she adds her response, " 'Don't you try talking to me now.' "

Hill is mentored by Rockdale coach Venson Elder, who wasn't able to attend the Seattle meet. Instead she came with her mother, Lori, as well as her sister. Still, she knows what she still needs to work on despite running what many would call the perfect race. "I feel like I could have driven a little bit longer at the start. I came up too early. I pushed off great, but it could be better."

What does 10.98 mean for Hill's future? Understandably, her head is still swirling. She has been trying to raise funds so she could attend the World Youth Trials in Lisle, Illinois. Yet she could possibly be a viable candidate for a relay spot at the grown-up Worlds in Beijing. When she crossed the line in Seattle, she put herself No. 4 on the U.S. yearly list.

Is she ready to line up against the pros? "No," she squeeks as only a shy 16-year-old can. "Noooo. They're so far advanced, and I feel like it was just this one race for me."

Within minutes of finishing her race, reporters started asking her if she was going to follow the footsteps of Kaylin Whitney and others and go pro herself. Not anytime soon, she insists. "I want to go to college. I don't want to go pro yet, if they were to ask me." Academically, the sky is the limit for Hill. She has high standards, and carries a 4.6 GPA (weighted) at Rockdale Magnet School for Science & Technology. It's a specialized program in a building next door to Rockdale County High.

"My classes are pretty hard. It's hard balancing it with track. This year I got my first B ever. I wanted to cry," she says. "It's okay now. " She may decide to be a doctor. Her mother is a therapist at a local hospital; her father works for an airline.

Even in the midst of her hot streak, she knows that eventually she's going to have a bad day. Eventually she's going to get beat: "I'll have a bad race. I don't want to think about it, but eventually it's going to come." But for now, she's 16. She wants to enjoy the ride.

She explains why: "When you're in the race, it feels long, and there's a lot that goes into sprinting 11 seconds. You have to train. You have to make sure everything is right technically. It's not just about speed. It's about who has the best start, who has the best drive, who has the best finish. A lot goes into play in the sprints.

"I love the energy and the vibe of going my fastest."

June 20, 2015