You could be forgiven for thinking Candace Hill was a seasoned professional athlete.
Watching her run, you’d assume she’d been a part of the international track and field circuit for years.
Her lengthy strides and frightening speed are reminiscent of Usain Bolt. And so are her winning margins — she leaves everyone else on the track in her wake.
But Hill is still in high school, as becomes immediately apparent as I introduce myself.
She seems nervous. It is her first major television interview, and she isn’t entirely sure what to expect. She is courteous and well mannered, but clearly shy and overwhelmed.
As I try to make small talk, her coach Venson Elder chimes in, “I keep telling her she’d better get used to this,” Elder says. “It’s going to be happening a lot soon.”
He’s probably right.
Earlier this summer, the 16-year-old Rockdale County High-Schooler achieved a feat few world class female track athletes ever accomplish in their career — running a sub 11-second 100 meter sprint.
Hill’s official time of 10.98 seconds would have been good enough to finish seventh at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and would have tied for silver at the 2008 Beijing Games four years earlier.
In the coming years, she’ll likely be doing many more interviews.
Alongside her mother and two high school coaches, we make our way to makeup to get ready.
Hill barely says a word before getting into the chair. I sense she wants to ask if she can take pictures, so I offer to take some photos with her phone. “Yes please!” she says, immediately reaching out with her phone as though she’d been waiting for a starting pistol to go off.
A few selfies later she’s ready to go, and we leave her entourage in makeup. I sense she might feel more relaxed without too many onlookers.
Once in front of the camera, we start talking about running, and her demeanor changes completely.
The nervous introversion is replaced with a broad smile and an abundance of confidence as though she’d done this a million times.
However, it isn’t as though she is churning out tried and tested answers approved by media consultants. Rather, she is genuinely excited to talk about what it feels like when she’s running.
“It feels great,” she says. “It just feels like nobody can catch me. I’m just in that zone and it’s a great feeling.”
Hill started running track in seventh grade and didn’t take long to find her stride.
“When I broke both state records in my freshman year, that’s when I was like, I’m killing it out there. I have a future in this sport — I can make it really far if I just work hard and stay humble.”
It’s clear that Hill is a star in the making, and potentially sooner rather than later, with the Rio Olympics just over a year away.
“2020 was the year I would actually try and want to make the [U.S. Olympic] team. When my coach threw in 2016 I was like, maybe that’s too early but you never know. I might show up and, you know, win. But it’s hard to think about right now because I’m only a sophomore.”
And that’s what is most impressive.
Many athletic prodigies already look like adults by the time they begin to make waves.
LeBron James was a freakish physical specimen in his high school basketball team, and footballer Wayne Rooney had the build of a man when he made his debut for English Premier League side Everton at the age of 16.
But Candace Hill still looks her age. The overly-defined muscles of a top track star have not yet begun to take shape. Hill is an actual teenager, running at speeds akin to the greatest athletes on the planet.
Her historic 100m dash at the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle last month saw her become the first 16-year-old ever to go under 11 seconds.
“So the official came up and was like, ‘Do you know what you just ran? You just ran a 10.9!’ I was like it had to be illegal.
“The clock had to be broken or something was wrong because I could not run 10.9. But they made it official, and they were like you broke a national record, an American junior record, you’re the world youth best. It was just so incredible.”
Elder, who has coached Hill since eighth grade says there’s really no limit to what she could achieve.
“She has improved a great deal over the past two years. I see her getting better and better every week,” he said.
“What she’s doing is something that a guy would be doing her age … an elite track boy would be doing the stuff that she is doing.
“I think she will be able to participate in multiple Olympic games and win gold medals, along with the world championships. I also think that she could become one of the best Olympic female runners ever.”
But you won’t find Hill jumping the gun — never once did she talk like a preordained Olympic gold medalist. Instead, when talking about her future, she discusses the subjects she wants to study in college.
“My favorite classes would have to be either Chemistry or Research. I feel like Chemistry is hard, but we do a lot of labs and stuff, so the labs are fun. We do a lot of labs in Research as well, and working on projects with partners as well. It’s pretty fun.”
And she’s an academic prodigy as much as an athletic one, with grades good enough to get her into just about any university she’d want to go to. Candace Hill is primed for success in whatever field she decides to take on.
Let’s hope for the sport’s sake, that field is track and field.
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