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19-Year-Old Vashti Cunningham Picture Perfect In Winning Career-First High Jump Title

By Karen Rosen | June 24, 2017, 2:46 a.m. (ET)

Vashti Cunningham competes in the women's high jump at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field at Hayward Field on July 3, 2016 in Eugene, Ore.


SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Vashti Cunningham is building her fashion photography portfolio and particularly likes shooting urban settings.

But she left her camera at home this week.

“I never bring my camera to the meets because I don’t have any time to really go out,” Cunningham said. “If I go out, I’ll be out for hours.”

And she’s more concerned with building her high jump portfolio anyway.

Cunningham, 19, won her first outdoor national championship Friday with a leap of 1.99 meters (6 feet, 6 ¼ inches), tying her personal best. She is the 2016 U.S. and world indoor champion and a 2016 Olympian, where she placed a disappointing 13th.

“This is the type of performance that I’ve been hoping to have every meet this season,” Cunningham said, “and I’m hoping that this type of performance sticks for the rest of my season.”

That includes the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.

“My goal for London is I want to win world championships and I want to break 2.0 (meters),” said Cunningham. “It’s definitely going to take higher than that, but you never know what can happen.

“I think this puts me in a good position for worlds and I still have room to keep going.”

Liz Patterson was second and 2014 national champion Inika McPherson was third. Both cleared 1.91 (6-3 ¼), but Patterson did it on her first attempt and McPherson on her second.

The competition saw five women no-height, and four-time Olympian Chaunte Lowe was one of seven women who went out after failing to clear 1.85 (6-0 ¾).

Brigetta Barrett, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was fourth at 1.88 (6-2).

The national championships are part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, and are being televised on NBC platforms.

Cunningham, who was third at the Prefontaine Classic at 1.95, passed the opening height and then cleared the next four on her first attempt. She was surprised that she was able to perform with such ease.

“Before coming out onto the track, I was flustered,” Cunningham said. “I didn’t know if I was ready to jump and I felt like everything was off out there, and I felt like I wasn’t close, but my dad was like, ‘You’re way over the bar.’ I didn’t even know I was that high, but it felt good.”

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Her father is former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, who said the 100-plus degree heat where they live in Las Vegas was good preparation.

“We knew coming in that it was a slight advantage because of the heat,” he said. “She was wearing a jacket today, which was kind of crazy.”

Randall said he was satisfied when she cleared 1.99 on her second attempt, figuring it was enough to get her ready for future Diamond League meets.

But Vashti wanted to try 2.02 (6-7 ½).

“I told her go ahead and shut it down,” he said. “She said, ‘No, I want to try it, Dad.’ I said, ‘All right. Go ahead.’ She’s kind of defiant, a little like me.”

Vashti had a misstep on her first attempt, hitting the bar. She missed again on her second attempt, and called it a day. Vashti waved to the crowd as she bounced off the pit.

This season Cunningham has a new hair style. “This is my natural hair,” she said. “Gotta let it flow.”

She laughed. “Go big or go home.”

And home is where her cameras are.

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Vashti Cunningham

Track and Field