She may be considerably faster than all of her rivals here in Cali, but US sprinter Candace Hill is taking nothing for granted ahead of this week’s IAAF World Youth Championships, Cali 2015 in the Colombian city.
In what will be the 16-year-old’s first international competition, the Georgia native is hoping she can produce a similar performance to her world youth 100m best of 10.98, set in Seattle last month.
It was a time which made her an overnight star, an internet sensation and having made it to Cali, Hill would like a major international title to go with it.
“It would mean a lot to win a gold medal for the United States,” said Hill at the traditional pre-event press conference on Tuesday. “That (time of 10.98) shattered my goals for the season and I was like ‘I don’t have to run any faster than this.’ It’s incredible.”
Over the past three weeks, Hill admitted it has been tough to keep her mind focused on the task at hand given the level of interest from the media.
“My coach said you need to stay focused and no matter what happens, to do your best,” she said. “Ever since that day I’ve been getting a lot of media attention, but I’m going to do what I have to do.
“I feel like 10.98 is fast enough (to win gold) but you never know so you just need to bring your best to the track,” she added.
“People are expecting me to run that fast again but I know that might have been a once-in-a-lifetime moment. The girl from Trinidad and Tobago is a great athlete. I feel like we’re going to go head-to-head in the finals.”
The athlete she speaks about, of course, is Khalifa St Fort, the 17-year-old who has a best of 11.43 and finished third behind Hill in the high school 100m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in New York last month.
St Fort is coached by Ato Boldon, who was world junior champion over 100m and 200m in 1992 and then went on to win 200m gold at senior level at the 1997 IAAF World Championships. “He’s a tough coach but I enjoy it,” said St Fort. “I’ve never had a coach/athlete relationship like this before and I know that anytime he’s hard on me, it’s out of love.”
With Hill likely to be an overwhelming favourite for gold, St Fort was keeping her expectations in check ahead of Wednesday’s 100m, which will see heats, semi-final and final all take place on the same day.
“My expectations are to execute my game plan well,” she said. “Of course the goal is to get first, but I’ve come a long way and just to be here is an experience. Whatever the outcome is I’ll be happy.”
In Boldon, who has travelled to Cali with St Fort and is also an IAAF ambassador, she has the perfect coach and mentor to help handle the pressures of the coming week, though as he explains, that’s not something that tends to affect her.
“She doesn’t get nervous,” said Boldon
“She sleeps in the car on the way to the race. We’ve been at this since October; she knows she’s done all the work, cried all the tears, gone through all the pain, now it’s time to relax and have fun.”
Boldon currently coaches three female athletes and at Monday’s press conference, he explained the simple reason for the absence of male athletes. “I have had young men come to my camp, and the girls are just tougher.”
Boldon believes that Hill’s 10.98 run, far from discouraging St Fort, served as the perfect example to her of an athlete making a breakthrough that he believes is imminent for his protégée.
“Khalifa’s whole season changed when she saw that 10.98,” he said, “because when someone she runs against runs a huge personal best, it shows you it’s possible. I know Khalifa is ready to run a personal best here and you can tie it to watching that 10.98.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened and it makes it easier to compete here because nobody is asking her questions. All the pressure is on Candace so it allows her to just come in and compete. She has done everything I’ve asked of her, (Candace Hill) is the only person to run faster than her; this is the beginning.”
Boldon was asked whether he will feel more nervous this week, as a coach, than he did during his competitive days as an athlete. “I’m much more nervous now,” he said. “I can’t control the outcome.”
Leaving his personal interests aside, Boldon says that as a fan of the sport, the women’s 100m is a race he – like most of the spectators here in Cali – will be most looking forward to watching this week.
“In previous years it’s taken 11.3/11.4 to win,” he said. “11.3 may not get a medal here this year.”
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF