USC high jumper Randall Cunningham has spent a lifetime living in the shadow of his famous father, but the younger Cunningham made a name for himself — even though he shares the same name as his father — when he captured an NCAA championship Friday evening at Hayward Field.
Cunningham, already qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials next month at Hayward, soared 7 feet 4 1/2 to establish a career best outdoors. An appreciative crowd of 12,244 roared its approval in one of the few U.S. cities where track and field remains highly popular.
“The atmosphere is great,” Cunningham said. “The stands packed out; the best of the best athletes; so to be able to out here and take first place means a lot to me.”
Cunningham, whose father was a standout quarterback at Nevada Las Vegas and in the NFL, cleared a career-best 7-5 indoors this year. That’s well short of the world’s best outdoor marks, but Cunningham said he hasn’t ruled out an Olympic gold medal this summer in Brazil. “I believe anything is possible,” he said.
The elder Cunningham, a standout high jumper in high school, has coached all three of his children in the high jump. Vashti is skipping college track to turn pro after winning the world women’s indoor high jump title at 6-5 this year. Dad missed Randall’s championship performance Friday because he was coaching 13-year-old daughter Grace in a youth meet back home in Las Vegas.
The younger Cunningham smiles when asked if his father is responsible for the good hops in the family.
“It might be a mixture of both my mom and my dad,” he said. “My mom was a professional ballet dancer.”
Cunningham’s jump, tied for fourth best outdoors in USC history, increased the Trojans’ record NCAA men’s track and field totals to 11 high jump titles and 117 individual titles overall.
The Trojans have won a record 26 men’s team titles — 14 more than second-place Arkansas — but USC settled for 12th place this year. Sophomore Ricky Martin Jr. took seventh in the 400-meter dash in 46.63 seconds Friday to help the Trojans total 16 points.
UCLA tied for 18th with 12 points after freshman Rai Benjamin finished sixth in the 400 intermediate hurdles in 49.82 seconds. Florida won the meet with 62 points, followed by Arkansas (56), Texas A&M (50) and two-time defending champion Oregon (48).
Oregon was keyed by a second consecutive 5,000 victory by junior Edward Cheserek (13:25.59). The Kenya native, who attended high school in Newark, N.J., tied the record of 15titles in cross-country and indoor and outdoor track. The record was set by another Kenyan distance runner, Texas El Paso’s Suleiman Nyambui, from 1978 to 1982.
Texas A&M freshman Donavan Brazier clocked 1:43.55 in the 800 to break college, meet and Hayward Field records.
Arkansas senior Jarrion Lawson wrapped up his career with victories in the 100 (10.22) and 200 (20.19). He won the long jump Wednesday.