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Graney: Former Bishop Gorman star looks to jump into 3rd Olympics

There are days when she thought things would be better and they weren’t. Days when she isn’t feeling it and jumps even higher than imagined.

It’s the unpredictability of her world. Of sailing unaided over a horizontal bar placed at measured heights.

Vashti Cunningham is still soaring. Still chasing her dream of one day standing on an Olympic platform with a medal draped around her neck.

She turned professional at age 18 out of Bishop Gorman. She signed with Nike after bursting into the high-jump universe.

She’s 26 now and a veteran of two Olympics: One in Rio de Janeiro (13th place) and the other in Tokyo (sixth).

Her next pursuit is the 2024 Games in Paris next month.

Trials are next

“Time has flown by,” Cunningham said. “I can’t believe this (would) be my third Olympics. But when I look back at all the training I have done, it all adds up. The career itself has blown me away.”

Cunningham is set to compete at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, which get underway Friday in Eugene, Oregon. She says any pressure comes internally after being a professional for so long. She never really thought of such things eight years ago, never looked ahead to a point such as this.

“I only knew that I wasn’t going to college, I was signing with Nike and I was staying home,” Cunningham said. “It’s a lot different now. A lot more serious.”

The high jump is a fascinating discipline. Some of the best of the best compete for a limited time and are then just gone from the sport overnight.

But others jump successfully into their mid-30s. So you figure Cunningham has a ways to go if her body holds up, which it has to this point.

She’s already talking about the 2032 Games in Australia, which would come four years after the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.

The high jump is an extremely technical event. It’s about steps and timing and when to pass on certain marks.

Cunningham has more often than not made the correct decisions when it comes to all of it.

She has 13 national championship wins, a gold and silver medal from the World Indoor Championships and a bronze from the outdoor World Championships. She’s talented enough to reach that Olympic platform. Skilled and savvy enough to realize her ultimate dream.

“Consistency,” said Randall Cunningham, Vashti’s father and coach who’s also a former UNLV and NFL quarterback and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. “The thing we’ve done is try and develop that because she was so young when she started and is now in the middle part of her (career). She’s right where she needs to be.

“She has been going non-stop. I’ve had to rest her a bit. She’s been to seven meets this year, plus we flew to Scotland. Right now, we’re firing up her body for (trials) and will again for Paris. In the end, you have to keep grinding.”

High expectations

So Vashti Cunningham keeps jumping. Keeps looking for an edge. Keeps being innovative in her pursuit.

OMORPHO designs micro-weighted training gear which allows athletes to move naturally when practicing while also feeling resistance. It’s just another way Cunningham hopes to increase her heights. To continue existing among the world’s best. To succeed at another U.S. trials and head to her third Olympics.

“I’ve been to Paris multiple times and it’s always great when I go there,” Cunningham said. “My dad’s goal in the way he has trained me has definitely been about having longevity in my career. I have high expectations for myself. I still feel like I’m young in this sport.”

And she still dreams of standing on that medal stand surrounded by those five famous interlaced rings.

“Absolutely,” Cunningham said. “I do.”

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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