Vashti Cunningham wins the high jump at the US Indoor Championships (Kirby Lee) © Copyright
Report Portland, USA

Teenage star Cunningham flies high at US Indoor Championships

Vashti Cunningham came of age in style by smashing the world U20 indoor high jump record on the final day of the US Indoor Championships in Portland on Saturday (12), the 18-year-old soaring over 1.99m to establish a world-leading mark.

It was perhaps fitting that the previous record of 1.97m – which stood since 2011 – was held by world champion Maria Kuchina, because Cunningham has long seemed destined for success at the highest level.

Her clearance brought a sizeable crowd at the Oregon Convention Center to its feet, and was one which establishes her as favourite for the high jump title at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016. Elizabeth Patterson edged Chaunte Lowe on countback to take silver, with both clearing a best of 1.93m.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” said Cunningham. “I knew I had that in me and this gives me a lot of confidence, that I’m now up there maintaining with all these girls.”

Cunningham, who has yet to graduate high school in her native Las Vegas, has few fears about taking on the world at the same venue next weekend. “The goal is to jump 6ft 7in or 6ft 8in (2.00m-2.03m) or whatever it takes to win,” she said. “I don’t feel the pressure. My Dad [Randall, who coaches her] has taught me to keep my eyes set on what I want to do and not pay attention to anyone else.”

Rollins reigns supreme, Morris surprises Suhr

On the track, Brianna Rollins turned in the performance of the day, the 2013 world champion blasting up the track in the 60m hurdles to edge victory in a PB of 7.76 – the fastest time in the world since 2012 – ahead of Keni Harrison (7.77) and Queen Harrison (7.83). The top six finishers ran below eight seconds in what was the strongest event of the championships.

In the women’s 60m, Barbara Pierre made good use of a lightning start to power away from the field and take victory in 7.00, which ties the world-leading time of Dafne Schippers, who she will square off against next weekend. “I’m always a starter, but not always a finisher, and it all came together today,” said Pierre. “Next week I want to do the same thing, not lose focus and execute my race.”

Tori Bowie came through strongly to take the second spot on the US team in 7.15, with Tianna Bartoletta third in 7.17.

There was a major upset in the women’s pole vault, with Sandi Morris smashing her personal best to beat world indoor record-holder Jenn Suhr. Morris needed three attempts to clear 4.75m. Demi Payne then briefly held the lead at 4.85m after clearing it first time with Suhr in second and Morris third. After failing once at 4.85m – a height Suhr cleared at the first attempt – Morris moved the bar up to 4.90m, which she sailed over on her second attempt.

Suhr, though, looked to have victory in hand after clearing 4.90m on her first try, but Morris had other ideas, and the 23-year-old sailed over 4.95m at the first attempt to seal victory.

Payne failed twice at 4.90m and once at 4.95m, having to settle for third with 4.85m. It was the first time in history that three women had been over 4.85m in the same competition.

“I grew up watching [Suhr] vault, and she was such an inspiration,” said Morris. “I’m living the dream right now. Once I made 4.90 today the pressure was just lifted off of my chest. I'm gonna take some shots at the world record; that'd be freaking awesome.”

Centrowitz edges a thriller

Matthew Centrowitz thrilled the home crowd by outsprinting Robby Andrews in what was a riveting climax to the men’s 1500m. Centrowitz took the lead with a little over three laps to run, and was briefly headed by Andrews during their home-straight duel, but the defending champion had too much on the final run to the line and took victory in 3:44.33 ahead of Andrews (3:44.40) and Ben Blankenship (3:45.40).

“That’s what you want in racing, to bring out the best in each other,” said Centrowitz. “But having him go by me was probably the first time someone actually went by me this whole year. I was happy with the way I responded. It shows my strength right now.”

In the men’s 60m, Marvin Bracy took victory by five thousandths of a second from Trayvon Bromell, with both athletes running 6.51 to book their spots on the US team for next weekend. Jarret Eaton was a clear winner of the men’s 60m hurdles in 7.52 ahead of Spencer Adams (7.58) and Jeff Porter (7.61).

In the women’s 800m, Ajee Wilson established herself as favourite for the world indoor title by breezing to victory in 2:00.87. The 2012 world junior champion led the race from gun to tape, passing 400m in 61.47 and cranking it up thereafter to come home well clear of Laura Roesler (2:02.44) and Phoebe Wright (2:02.51).

Boris Berian employed the same tactic in the men’s 800m and was equally dominant, coming home in 1:47.19 ahead of Erik Sowinski (1:47.62) and Casimir Loxsom (1:47.89).

In the women’s 1500m, Brenda Martinez unleashed an impressive turn of speed approaching the final lap, which took her clear of the field to win in 4:08.37 ahead of Cory McGee (4:09.97) and Amanda Eccleston (4:10.42).

Quanera Hayes was a surprise winner of the women’s 400m, striking late to win in 51.09 ahead of Ashley Spencer (51.29) and longtime leader Natasha Hastings (51.34). The men’s race provided no such upset, with Vernon Norwood justifying the favourite’s tag by taking gold in 45.80 from Kyle Clemons (45.95).

Brittney Reese opened the women’s long jump series with a whopping 6.89m – the third longest jump in the world this year – which was more than good enough to take gold ahead of Janay DeLoach (6.64m) and Andrea Geubelle (6.57m). 

“It was really important to come out here and establish some kind of rhythm on the runway before next week,” said Reese. “I’ll go back with my coach and watch some film and see where I need to improve on in order to win another medal.”

Chris Carter took victory in the men’s triple jump with his fifth-round effort of 17.06m, with Omar Craddock also joining him on the US team after finishing second with 16.96m.

Kurt Roberts denied Reese Hoffa by the shortest of margins to take the men’s shot put title, his 20.08m effort in the fourth round giving him victory by one centimetre ahead of Hoffa. “I never thought I’d win it with that winning distance, but I don’t think that reflects the shape I’m in,” he said. “I spent all last year injured, so it feels good to come out and win.”

John Nunn took victory in the men’s 3000m race walk in 11:37.09, while Maria Michta-Coffey took the women’s in 12:33.75.

Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF