When Candace Hill became the fastest teenage girl the United States has ever clocked, sprinting 100 meters in 10.98 seconds in June, she was suddenly good enough not only to qualify for next summer’s Rio Olympics, but also to potentially win a medal there. Now, at age 16, she has become the youngest track athlete in the United States to turn professional.
Hill is the latest in a recent wave of talented young runners — all female — to join the professional ranks while still in high school, going straight to salaried racing and leapfrogging the traditional step of collegiate competition. This is a path that not even Olympic gold medalists like Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee or Edwin Moses took.
“It’s the era of the girl in general,” said Lauren Fleshman, a professional runner and five-time N.C.A.A. champion at Stanford. “Women have never been more marketable in sports than they are now, from U.S. soccer to Serena. Forty-plus years since Title IX means we have our first generation of supportive parents and coaches who grew up with the idea of female athletes not being horrifying. People are training girls harder than ever.”