PORTLAND — Inexperience didn’t faze Vashti Cunningham at the World Indoor Track and Field Championships on Sunday as the senior at Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) calmly executed initial attempt clearances on the first three heights to win the gold medal.
Favorites Ruth Beitia, 36, of Spain and Kamila Licwinko, 29, of Poland settled for second and third, respectively – all at 6-feet, 5 inches. The difference was the first try clearance for the 18-year-old Cunningham.
Beitia, twice the age of Cunningham, got over on her second attempt, as did Licwindo (who also had an earlier miss). Nobody could make the next height of 6-6 1/4 – the 2016 world-leading mark that Cunningham achieved a week ago in the USATF Indoor Championship at the same Portland Convention Center. That was also a national high school record and a world junior (under age 20) mark.
Cunningham is the youngest woman to ever win any world indoor track and field gold medal at age 18 years, 62 days.
Cunningham was given a special invitation to the world meet Monday after her jump last weekend even though the March 7 deadline had passed for qualifying.
Cunningham will return home to consider plans for her final high school season, although a move to the professional ranks seems imminent. She indicated as much during a post-race TV interview but backed off a little bit during a meeting with reporters later.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure,” she replied when asked about turning pro. “I do hope to be on the Olympic Team and then I’ll be working as hard as I can to be on the medal standard.”
The U.S. Olympic Trials are July 1 to 10 in Eugene, Ore.
Her father, former All-Pro Quarterback Randall Cunningham, will guide the next move. Randall also serves as his daughter’s coach.
“I did not think I would here now at 18 years old,” she said. “Hopefully this is a long career for me.”