Child Prodigy Vashti Cunningham Could Become Youngest Athlete to Medal At Track and Field Since 1972

Vashti Cunningham poses with the flag after winning the women’s high jump during the 2016 IAAF World Championships. Photo by Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

Vashti Cunningham poses with the flag after winning the women’s high jump during the 2016 IAAF World Championships. Photo by Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

Supreme athleticism run in the Cunningham family.

Just a month after graduating high school, 18-year-old Vashti Cunningham is set to compete in the Rio Summer Olympics after placing second in high jump at the Olympic track trials, People reports. Cunningham is the daughter of retired NFL superstar Randall Cunningham, known for his unconventional and often improvised football technique.

The retired football star serves as his daughter’s coach and mentor alongside her mother Felicity de Jager, a former Dance Theatre of Harlem ballerina.

According to People, Cunningham is the world-reigning indoor champion, as she finished second behind three-time Olympian and American record-holder Chaunte Lowe at the Eugene, Oregon Olympic trials on Sunday.

As she heads to the Olympic Games this summer, Cunningham will be the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to represent America since 1976, Sports Illustrated reports. And if she’s lucky enough to snag a medal in Rio, she’ll be the first to do so since 1972.

Her father sees no reason why she couldn’t win a gold medal at the upcoming games.

“There’s no other way to train people,” Randall Cunningham told The New York Times. “You give them a vision, and they have to keep it in sight.”

The child prodigy trains four times a week with a workout regimen complete with leg lifts and weight training. Cunningham avoids squats, however, to reduce the chance of knee and ankle injuries, The New York Times reports.

She often compares her athletic drive and desire to win to that of her dad’s.

“Me and my dad are similar athletes,” Cunningham explained to the publication. “I want to win everything I do. I’ll be thankful if I go and don’t win, but there’s always that fire in me that needs to win and wants to win.”

She also described clearing the high jump as a “confrontation between me and the bar.”

“…I’m going to look at it and realize I can conquer it and I can destroy it basically,” the track star said. “I go up and stare it down and realize that if my head can go over it, my body can go over it.”

According to Sports Illustrated, Cunningham and Lowe, who is headed to the Olympics as well, are the United States’ best chance at winning gold in Rio for the high jump. Not a single American female athlete has snagged a gold medal in the event since Louise Ritter at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Unsurprisingly, Cunningham isn’t the first in her family to qualify for the Olympic trials. Her brother, Randall Cunningham II, won the 2016 NCAA outdoor championship his sophomore year at Southern California and earned a spot in the U.S. Olympic trials, The New York Times reports.

Cunningham is set to compete alongside big name athletes like gymnast Gabby Douglas, basketball star Kevin Durant, and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

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