Track & field: Cunninghams have high aspirations

The acorns haven’t jumped far from the tree.

Before he was a college and NFL quarterback, Randall Cunningham cleared the high jump bar at 6 feet, 10 inches for Santa Barbara (Calif.) High School.

“I had a lot of fun (high jumping),” Cunningham said Friday night at the Albuquerque Convention Center. “But I was a football player, so I went ahead and did that.”

The next Cunningham generation, though, has truly embraced the high jump.

Vashti Cunningham, Randall’s 18-year-old daughter, won the women’s event Friday night at the New Mexico Classic and Multis indoor track meet. Her clearance of 6-4¾ is a United States junior indoor record.

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Randall Cunningham II, Vashti’s older brother, is also a high jumper. Competing for Southern California, he finished fourth in the men’s competition with a clearance of 6-11½.

Chaunté Lowe, a three-time U.S. Olympian and a nine-time national champion, also cleared 6-4¾ in the women’s hjgh jump. But Vashti Cunningham, a senior at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Nev., won on fewer misses.

It was the first indoor meet of Cunningham’s burgeoning career.

“I like indoors,” she said. “The track feels faster and a little bouncier.

“I’m happy with my performance because I’m higher than I started out last year, so I feel like this will be a better year.”

 Olympic gold medalist Greg Rutherford makes a leap of 27ft 1 1/4 inches on Friday, Feb. 05, 2016 .(Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal.)

Olympic gold medalist Greg Rutherford makes a leap of 27ft 1 1/4 inches on Friday, Feb. 05, 2016 .(Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal.)

Both Cunninghams are coached by their father, who played 16 years in the NFL – throwing for almost 30,000 yards and 207 touchdowns.

Vashti, the elder Cunningham said, scored a touchdown of sorts Friday night.

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“She believed she could come in and jump 6-3,” he said. “I knew that she would get close to 6-5. … We’re still at the beginning of our training, so I’m really happy, very, very happy with her.

“It was a blessing to be in with Chaunté and Liz (Patterson, who finished third at 6-3 ½), great jumpers.”

Vashti Cunningham’s ultimate goal for 2016 is the same as Lowe’s: a berth on the U.S. Olympic team. If that happens, Lowe won’t be surprised.

“I’m extremely impressed (with Cunningham),” Lowe said. “I think it will be a shock not to see her on the Olympic team.”

Like Vashti Cunningham, Greg Rutherford competed in Albuquerque on Friday for the first time. He’ll long remember it – well, at least until the next time he sets a British national indoor record.

Rutherford, the 2012 Olympic long jump gold medalist, sailed 27-1¼ on his second jump of the night, easily winning his event. His mark is the best in the world so far this season.

He was one of three Olympic gold medalists, six Olympic medalists and at least 13 Olympians who competed Friday or will compete today in the star-laden meet.

Many of those athletes have competed here before, either in one of four indoor national championships Albuquerque hosted (2011-14) or in meets like Friday’s, staged by UNM.

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Rutherford’s first visit was an unqualified success.

“First competition of the year,” he said. “I’ve been in America the last three weeks, so we were just going to see where we’re at. Obviously we’re in a pretty good place.”

Rutherford hit his record/world best jump on his second attempt. After fouling on his third, he passed on his final three jumps.

“It’s all being smart,” he said. “My coach is here, and we had a chat. We just decided, first time out, legs are a little tight, first time ever jumping at altitude, so we’ll see how I respond.

“But again, I come in, jump an indoor (personal best) and a national record. So for me, I don’t want to push my luck.”

Rutherford will go back to England to compete in his national championships, then return to his U.S. training base in Arizona to prepare for IAAF World Indoor Championships, scheduled March 17-20 in Portland, Ore.

The Lobos’ long jump duo of Yannick Roggatz and Allan Hamilton took second and third place behind Rutherford. Roggatz’s leap of 24-11¾ bettered the indoor personal best he set last week at the same venue.

In the women’s long jump, 2012 Olympic medalists Brittney Reese (gold) and Janay DeLoach (bronze) had a close contest. Reese had a jump of 21-5½ on her first attempt, barely holding off DeLoach, who went 21-4¾ on her final jump.

Former Albuquerque Academy star and Duke All-American Curtis Beach, returning to a track on which he’s had great success, was in third place after the first four events of the heptathlon.

Beach had 3,150 points, trailing Kennesaw State’s Bilal Abdullah (3,405) and former Wisconsin multievent athlete Japheth Cato. The Albuquerque native had solid performances in the 60-meter dash, the long jump and the shot put, but had a subpar effort in the high jump (6-4¾).

The heptathlon concludes this morning, starting at 7:15 a.m. The second day (60 hurdles, pole vault, 1000 meters) is Beach’s stronger of the two.

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