Meet Vashti Cunningham, Team USA’s best chance for gold in high jump
espnW: The 18-year-old has outjumped every American woman in 2016
LAS VEGAS — A month after Vashti Cunningham turned pro, she fought with her dad about homework and bedtime.
An 18-year-old senior at Bishop Gorman High School, Vashti had been given a month to complete a seven-page, double-spaced paper on “Pride and Prejudice” for her English class. But here she was, a night before it was due, staring at a blank computer screen.
Her father, former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, who doubles as a coach, became more and more annoyed by this procrastination that was causing her to miss out on crucial sleep — the pros don’t do that, the pros do the little things (she had heard that a million times). And she was a pro, like every other pro.
She also was a senior and, like most every other senior, she had senioritis.
Except she knew that she was not like every other senior. In March, she had signed with Nike, forgoing a college career, and then won the high jump title at the IAAF World Indoor Championships and the $40,000 purse that went along with it. That was a week after winning the U.S. indoor title. No American woman has jumped a better height in 2016 than Cunningham.
Because she’s just 18 and possibly still growing at 6-foot-1, because she has a pedigree that seems to have been constructed for high jumping, because she is seen as both natural talent and untapped potential, many believe that she’s not only the United States’ best hope for a high jump medal in Rio but also the future of the sport in America.
“Can she be the world record holder? I think she can be,” two-time Olympic high jump bronze medalist Dwight Stones said. “I think the potential is there.”
Read more from espnW‘s Chantel Jennings here.