Teenager Cunningham steals show at worlds
PORTLAND — High school senior Vashti Cunningham, daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, became the youngest high jump champion ever at the world indoor track and field championships on Sunday.
The gold-medal winning clearance of 6 feet, 5 inches is the latest honor in the stunning rise of the 18-year-old Cunningham, who set the American high school record in the event at the U.S. indoor championship 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 United States finished the event with a record 23 medals, including 13 golds, in a championship 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 1,500 meters and Marquis Dendy in the long jump.
The U.S. also won both the men's and women's 4x400 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 leaning toward going pro instead of college. She'll now try to make the U.S. team for the Olympics this summer in Brazil.
But first she has to graduate from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas.
"I'm excited on the inside but keeping it calm on the outside," she said.
Centrowitz celebrated his victory by pointing to the USA emblazoned across his jersey. He became the first American man to win the 1,500 with a final-lap surge that pulled him in front of silver medalist Jakup Holusa of the Czech Republic. New Zealand's Nicholas Willis poured it on down the stretch to finish with the bronze.
Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, who holds the indoor world record in the 3,000 meters, 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. Fellow Ethiopian 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 1,500.
"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.
"I was surprised I actually passed some of the guys," Hill said.