With pressure and expectation heaped on her young shoulders, Candace Hill stayed composed and relaxed to turn in one of the classiest, most commanding performances of the IAAF World Youth Championships, Cali 2015 on Thursday night (16).
The US sprinter powered to victory in the girls’ 100m in a championship best of 11.08.
As it turns out, Hill had to be at her best – or very near it – to take victory as Khalifa St Fort of Trinidad and Tobago ran a lifetime best to finish second in 11.19. The USA’s Jayla Kirkland rounded out the medals in third with 11.41.
For Hill, who has been touted as a future star of the sport ever since her 10.98 run in Seattle last month to set a world youth best, the win arrived with a hefty dose of relief and that much was made clear in the immediate aftermath as the 16-year-old burst into tears during her post-race interview.
After regaining her composure, Hill explained that the calm exterior she displayed on the start line hid considerable tension.
“That is the single most nervous I’ve ever been,” she said. “I was just telling myself to stay relaxed, stay composed, focus and run your best.”
For Hill, winning gold in Cali marked an arrival of sorts. As she explained, victory here – and indeed that 10.98 last month – seemed impossible feats just a few short months ago.
“The moment my season started, I was a bit out of shape,” she said. “Me and my coach worked on it and I just got better, ran PRs, ran that 10.98, and that gave me confidence coming into this meet. Here, I just had to focus and do my job.”
Still rubbing the tears from her eyes, Hill explained just how important this title was.
“I’m a real world champion,” she said. “It’s so amazing. This means the world to me. Winning a gold medal for Team USA; I’m just so, so thankful.”
Though Hill was the undoubted star of the night, there was no overlooking the breakthrough performance of silver medallist St Fort.
Her coach, Ato Boldon, had predicted earlier this week that such an improvement was likely and she duly delivered on that promise, running a personal best of 11.39 in the qualifying heats, 11.24 in the semi-finals before going quicker still in the final with 11.19.
Afterwards, she was most gracious in defeat, noting that she had just come up against an unbeatable rival on the day.
“I think she’s a phenomenal athlete,” said St Fort. “I look forward to competing against her again. I think I can go a lot faster. I have a lot of things to fix and I expect great things all year.”
Boldon noted afterwards that the next stop for his protégée will hopefully be the IAAF World Championships in Beijing next month.
Hill, meanwhile, will have to wait before pitching her vast talent against the seniors. Right now, she will have to make do with being the fastest youth in the world.
And for now, she’s just fine with that.
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF