After dominating youth scene, US teenage sprinter eyes Rio
Teenage sprinter Candace Hill's favorite subject in high school is U.S. history.
Certainly appropriate, since the 16-year-old from Conyers, Georgia, makes quite a bit of it whenever she steps on the track in her hard-to-miss, highlighter-yellow spikes. World history, too, in breaking all sorts of youth marks.
Perhaps later this season, some Olympic history as one of the youngest sprinters ever to make the American squad.
Thoughts of the Rio Games? Oh, they're there all right, especially after she turned pro a month ago and signed a 10-year sponsorship deal with ASICS. Her focus remains school, training, homework and even more training, because becoming the next Allyson Felix - her idol - takes that much work.
''It would mean the world to me, if I made the Olympic team,'' Hill said in a phone interview. ''That would show everyone that it's possible for someone to be so young and still make it.''
Her times are certainly drawing quite a bit of attention.
Last summer, Hill became the first American to win the IAAF world youth championships in the 100 and 200, even setting a new world youth record in the 200 (22.43 seconds).
She also ran 10.98 seconds in the 100 last June - a time that, for comparison's sake, would've earned her a share of the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and seventh at the 2012 London Games.
One more quick stat: She's won more than 90 straight races, which helped her earn the 2015 Gatorade national girls athlete of the year award.
No wonder she was ready for a new challenge. And in her first pro indoor race nearly two weeks ago in Alabama, she kept right on winning - setting a new meet record in the 60 meters as well.
''Going pro was right for me because the competition would push me more and I'd get more experience,'' said Hill, who turns 17 on Feb. 11.
Her role model has long been Felix, whose specialty is the 200 and who may be in the lane next to Hill for the U.S. Olympic trials in July.
''I just loving watching her run,'' Hill said of Felix, who's expected to try to earn spots in both the 200 and 400. ''She competes on the world stage and wins. That motivates me to try harder and be like her one day.''
Hill has been fast tracked for success since childhood. In neighborhood races - you know, race to that blue mailbox and back - she would easily win against anyone bold enough to challenge her. But she really didn't start taking the sport seriously until seventh grade.
All those years ago - four to be more precise - she was an alternate on her school's 4x100 relay team. One day a teammate got hurt and Hill stepped in. She did well and kept getting ''better and better and better and better,'' she said.
Keep this up and ASICS just may allow her to design her own shoe and apparel - in neon colors, of course.
''We recognized very quickly that Candace is a `once-in-a-lifetime' talent with incredible potential,'' Gene McCarthy, President and CEO of ASICS America, wrote in an email. ''We know the sky's the limit in terms of what we can achieve together.''
There's been a trend of teenagers turning pro and skipping the college track scene. Middle-distance runner Mary Cain did so in 2013, and sprinter Kaylin Whitney did it last season, when she signed a deal with Nike on her 17th birthday.
''For us, it's not about the trend - it's about the talent,'' said McCarthy, whose company's sponsorship includes support of Hill's education. ''Candace has the type of promise that warranted this type of long-term deal.''
Hill remains undecided whether she will race in the 100, 200 or both at the Olympic trials. She could become the second-youngest to make the Olympics for the Americans in the 100, behind only Elizabeth Robinson. Robinson earned a spot in 1928 at 16 years, 316 days, according to research by USA Track and Field.
''If I make the team, I'll be so, so happy,'' Hill said.
Most times, she's just your ordinary teenager. She enjoys movies, reading and is a standout student with a 4.6 GPA.
Her schedule is anything but ordinary: School until 3 p.m., then off to track practice for three hours under the guidance of coach Tony Carpenter. After that, it's homework and maybe some television - if she's not too exhausted.
''Track makes me happy, but also puts a big weight on my shoulder. I have to do well,'' Hill said. ''Everyone is looking for me to be the next great thing in track and field. That gives me motivation to work harder at practice and do my best at meets and just go for it.''