Vashti Cunningham, daughter of NFL great, situateds sights on high jump glory

Sean Ingle: The daughter of Randall Cunningham has leapt from obscurity to become the most talked-about thing in US track and field. Could the Rio Olympics loom?

For much of the past week, Vashti Cunninghams life was no different to any other American teen. She went to class, at Bishop Gorman High School in . She hung out at the mall. She feed two pieces of cheesecake. And then, at the US Indoor trials last Saturday, she leapt from obscurity to the national prominence by jumping higher than anyone in the this year. At only 18 years old.

Her clearance of 1.99 m not only broke the US and world junior indoor record the committee is also had the IAAF, way and fields governing body, loosening their rule book to widen a special invitation to this weeks World Indoor Championships after qualification had closed. And now she is here in Portland, she certainly isnt intending to make up the numbers.

I want a personal best and lets ensure where that takes me, she says, smiling. But Im not nervous. I just go and jumping. If I do bad, I do bad. If I do good, I do good.

One person wasnt shocked by her performance. Her father and coach-and-four Randall, the former Philadelphia Eagles , knew she was exceptional from the moment she played flag football with her classmates when she was nine and stood them up.

She was playing with the boys and she caught a ball and she operated for a touchdown, says Cunningham Snr, who retired in 2001. None of them could catch her. Im like, hold on a second. Then she had four touchdowns. And I said, she likely thinks she can play tackle so Im going to stop that.

Randall
Vashti Cunningham stands with her parent and coach, long-time NFL quarterback Randall, on Friday in Portland. Photograph: Pat Graham/ AP

Instead her parent directed her to the track. Vashti excelled at 400 m and long jump, but she really took a shine to the high jump. Last year she didnt enter the US trials for the World Championships, preferring to concentrate on the juniors. But in 2016 she intends to induce her mark first at these Indoor World Championships and then at the Olympics in Rio.

Im astonished at her progress on the one hand, but I also know she has the genetics, says Cunningham Snr. God has really blest her. My wife Felicity was a ballet dancer so she has the strength in her jumping too. To watch her jumping at the US indoor trials last week was really exciting. I told her the goal this year was a minimum of 2.00 m. And shes close. Shes got a centimetre to go, and I believe shell get it.

Cunningham Snr who was a decent high jumper at high school before devoting it up to play college football and then the NFL, says he spends hours watching other athletes taught to coach-and-four his daughter. Vashti, who develops at the track twice a week and lifts weights three times, insists it is working.

My dad knows what he talks about, she says. When he violates another athlete down, he looks at the smallest things the way they are running, the height they bring their knees, he kind of gives me that to go off.

But at 52, Cunningham Snr cant practise what he preaches any more. I always wonder what would have happened if I had stuck with the high jump, he says. Weeks ago I had a little flashback and tried to go over five-foot four with a ramp. It seemed kinda crazy. They were laughing, all the girls I coach set it on Twitter. I wont do that again. Ive made up my intellect. Its all about Vashti and what she does.

So how good could she be? Scarily for her opponents, Cunningham Snr believes she is years from her physical peak. The sky is the limit for her, he says. I dont believes in having kids peaking out at high school, I want make sure I protect them. Its not only her ability but her confidence and her patience.

But I like her focus. This year what we are trying to do is get her working on a couple of different things, merely employing her upper body and her limbs a little bit more. I analysed that 1.99 m leap at the US Trials, and she didnt use her arms. And Im thinking: what happens when she does start doing that, and it kicks in? Shes pretty natural. I figure if I take her slow, the working day shell have a chance of winning an Olympic gold medal and transgress the world record.

For now, though, Vashtis focus is securely on this weekend in Portland. It promises to be the biggest moment of her young life, but she clearly isnt concerned. In practise I dont make anything, ever she says. I miss six feet, I miss five ten. But when it comes to the meet, its different. I feel like a performer.

And, you suspect, these World Indoor Championships are merely the first of many stages.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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