PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Teenager Vashti Cunningham‘s upcoming to-do list includes prom, a trip to Disneyland and graduation.
Turning pro and making the American team in the high jump for the Rio Olympics rank pretty high up there, too.
The daughter of longtime NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham may even be one of the favorites this summer, especially after winning gold at the World Indoor Track and Field Championships on Sunday.
“I’m excited on the inside and keeping it calm on the outside,” said Cunningham, who cleared 6 feet, 5 inches to become the youngest female ever to capture a title at World Indoors. “It means a lot to be the world champion this young. I did not think that I would not be here right now at 18 years old.”
This is the latest honor in the rapid rise of Cunningham, who set the American high school record in the event at the U.S. Indoor Championships last weekend.
Randall Cunningham, who is also his daughter’s coach, leapt to his feet when she was pronounced the winner — along with the rest of the crowd at the Portland Convention Center.
“The people have been so supportive of her,” Randall Cunningham said in a phone interview afterward. “Vashti has never had people clap when she’s about to jump. And they know exactly when to clap. They’re like the Seattle Seahawks — the 12th man.”
The United States finished the event with a record 23 medals, including 13 golds, in a meet that didn’t include Russia, which was absent because of pending doping charges. Other American gold medalists on the final day of the championship included Matthew Centrowitz in the 1500m and Marquis Dendy in the long jump.
The U.S. also won both the men’s and women’s 4x400m relay.
Just like the week before at Nationals, Cunningham stole the show. Ruth Beitia of Spain, who is 18 years older than Cunningham, claimed the silver and Kamila Licwinko of Poland finished third.
Afterward, Cunningham announced she is strongly leaning toward going pro instead of college. She’ll now try to make the U.S. team for the Olympics this summer in Brazil. She would be younger than any U.S. Olympic track and field competitor since 1976, according to sports-reference.com.
But first she has to graduate from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas — and no, her new title doesn’t get her excused from class.
“She has to go back to school tomorrow,” her father said.
Centrowitz celebrated his victory by pointing to the USA emblazoned across his jersey. He became the first American man to win the 1500m with a final-lap surge that pulled him in front of silver medalist Jakup Holusa of the Czech Republic. New Zealand’s Nick Willis poured it on down the stretch to finish with the bronze.
“Now it’s time to go get an Olympic medal,” Centrowitz said.
Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, who holds the indoor world record in the 3000m, fell to the back of a conservative pack at the start of Sunday’s final, but pulled out in front about halfway through and defended her title easily in 8:47.43. Countrywoman Meseret Defar, coming off an extended break for the birth of her daughter, was second, and American Shannon Rowbury was third.
Rowbury, an Olympian who trains in Portland, won the U.S. indoor championship last week, moving up from her usual 1500m.
“The end of the race was tough, but the crowd carried me through to the finish,” Rowbury said.
On the men’s side, Ethiopian teenager Yomif Kejelcha won the gold in 7:57.21, but American Ryan Hill had a thrilling surge to move up from fifth on the final lap to finish with the silver. Kenya’s Augustine Kiprono Choge took the bronze.
Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi held off American Ajee’ Wilson to finish the women’s 800m in 2:00.01 for her nation’s first gold and the world’s best time in the event this year. Kenya’s Margaret Nyairera Wambui finished third.
Dendy, who also won last week at nationals, topped silver medalist Fabrice Lapierre of Australia and bronze winner Changzhou Huang of China with a leap of 27 feet, 1 1/4 inches.
Jamaica’s Omar McLeod topped the podium in the 60m hurdles in a world-leading 7.41 seconds, followed by France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde and Dimitri Bascou.
The event in a cavernous hall at the Oregon Convention Center was well attended, selling out Saturday night’s session and Sunday with more than 7,000 fans. But track has traditionally done well in Oregon, the home of the late track legend Steve Prefontaine and the birthplace of Nike.
The U.S. Indoor Championships in Portland last weekend before the worlds kicked off a busy year for the sport in Oregon. Eugene’s Hayward Field will host the U.S. Olympic Trials this summer, which will determine the Americans who make the team for the Rio Games. This year’s NCAA championships will also take place at Hayward.
But the timing — at least for an American audience — wasn’t the greatest for the international championship, bumped up against the NCAA basketball tournament.
Vin Lananna, president of meet organizer TrackTownUSA, acknowledged there’s no getting around the fact that the World Championships are held in March.
“I think we would have liked the emphasis to be just on this,” he said. “[But] I think in the United States March madness is a big deal. I think we have the opportunity to do both.”