ATHLETICS

Vashti Cunningham: the US' new track and field sensation

The 18-year-old daughter of NFL legend Randall Cunningham took world gold in Portland after smashing junior records the previous week.

Vashti Cunningham: the US' new track and field sensation
Elaine Thompson AP

Teenage prodigy Vashti Cunningham confirmed her emergence as the newest star of US track and field after soaring to gold in the women's high jump at the World Indoor Championships here Sunday.

The 18-year-old daughter of legendary Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham only secured a place in Portland at the 11th hour after being granted a special invitation by the organisers.

That invitation came after Cunningham, a Las Vegas high school student, broke the US and world junior indoor record at last weekend's US Indoor trials with a leap of 1.99m.

On Sunday the fresh-faced teenager showed remarkable composure in the biggest competition of her life, comfortably clearing her first four heights at the first attempt.

Vashti Cunningham competes in the women's high jump.

Her final clearance of 1.96m was good enough for gold on countback ahead of Spain's Ruth Beitia and Poland's Kamila Licwinko.

Cunningham said she is now targeting a place on the US Olympic team later this year, even if she was still pinching herself at the win.

"I did not think that I would be here right now at 18 years old," Cunningham said. "It means a lot to be the world champion this young. "I'm very happy to add on to the medals that my team has been accepting throughout this whole meet, and that I can give back to my country. Hopefully this is a long career for me. I do hope to be on the Olympic team, and I will be working as hard as I can to be on that medal stand."

Cunningham was pushed towards a career in track and field by her famous father, who also excelled at high jump. "I'm surprised at her progress on the one hand, but I also know she has the genetics," Cunningham senior said in a recent interview with British newspaper The Guardian.

"God has really blessed her. My wife Felicity was a ballet dancer so she has the strength in her jumping too."