At this month's Beijing World Championships, world junior 200m champion Kaylin Whitney will get the chance to show that even 17-year-olds can mix it with the seniors. We profile one of the most talented breakthrough sprinters of her generation as she gears up for the biggest competition of her life.

Way back yonder

Kaylin Whitney is one of American athletics’ most high profile protégées. She started track at the age of seven, and aged eight won three gold medals at the 2006 AAU Junior Olympics (a national age group competition) in the 100m, 200m and long jump.

With the long jump no longer a concern for the girl from Clermont, Florida, her focus is purely on the sprints and her ambition is to be the very best.

“When I went to Dennis [Mitchell, coach of Star Athletics Track Club, of which she is a member], I was still doing the long jump, and he said ‘would you rather be good at two events or great at one?’ That stuck with me.”

Hello world

Last summer, Whitney showed how far she has progressed by posting world youth bests in both the 100m (11.10) and 200m (22.49) on her way to winning a sprint double in the USATF Junior Championships.

She then demonstrated she could turn it on on the international stage at the world junior championships, claiming 200m gold and 100m bronze medals. At just over 16, she was the youngest gold medallist of the champs. It was also only the second time that an American woman has won medals in both events in the history of the championships (Shakedia Jones in 1998).

Kaylin Whitney Toronto 200m SPIKES ()

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Big kid

For someone of such a tender age, Whitney is no stranger to the senior stage. She turned pro on her 17th birthday back in March, and now trains in a group that includes some of the fastest athletes in the world. 

She finished fourth at June’s USATF National Championships in another world youth best 22.47 (since beaten by Candace Hill), qualifying her for the US team for the PanAm Games in Toronto, where she won gold in the 200m and the 4x100m.

“At first it [competing in senior competitions] felt really different. But now I feel like I’m one of them. I mean, I am one of them. So I just have to keep that in my mind. That, you know, everyone physically is the same on this level. It’s all about being mature mentally and executing your race.”

Dominate effect

Whitney’s fourth place at the US champs meant she was just short (a mere 0.03 seconds short, to be precise) of making the team for the individual 200m.

Yet the selectors are taking her to Beijing to compete in the 4x100m, no doubt impressed by the job she did as anchor for the US team at the Monaco Diamond League meet last month, and again for the gold medal-winning US team at the PanAm games. It gives her the chance to highlight the fact that there really is nowhere in the world like the US for producing generation after generation of top class sprinters.

“I feel like since the US is such a big country, you get so much talent here. It’s hard to fit everyone on one team. So that’s why we come to those world championships and Olympics and we just dominate it.”

Damn straight!

Long game

Whitney is scarily young and has already spent the best part of a decade winning at her sport. Stay healthy and maintain her speed and it could be the 2030s (😩) before we see the last of her. Good job she loves track and field so much.

“You just got to keep it fun. You really got to have a passion to run track. Running is hard! No one likes practicing, but everyone loves to compete and get medals.”

Catch that fish

Whitney has had to mature fast to ensure she improves. The high school circuit simply wouldn’t have given her a stern enough test on a regular basis, which is why she had little choice but to turn pro and compete in the big leagues.

Days spent training and not in class is not typical for someone her age, but she is still young at heart, and enjoys spending her downtime with her pals, just like any other high schooler.

“[I like to] hang out with my friends; go to the movies, things like that. We go to the beach sometimes. Swimming? I love it! Surfing? I’ve never tried it, but I love fishing.

“My dad always did it. So one day he took me out there and we cast a few poles, and it turned out to be fun. It’s rewarding, you know? You’ve got to wait for the fish to bite, but when you get the fish it means a lot.

“It’s like practice is casting that pole out, and slowly reeling it in. Then once you get those medals out here that’s your fish.”