The oldest, youngest and perhaps most patient are among four major gold medalists in a world-class women’s high jump field at the Prefontaine Classic.
The stellar field includes American record holders on different levels and the top seven in the world according to All-Athletics.com, the official data partner of the IAAF Diamond League.
Ruth Beitia of Spain won Olympic gold in Rio at age 37 to become by far the oldest medalist in the event (the previous was 31). In her fourth Olympics, it was the first major gold for Beitia, who won her second-straight Diamond League title and third European Championships crown last year. Beitia will turn 38 on April 1 and is still on top of her game, earning silver at the recent European Indoor Championships and winning the Spanish indoor title for the 16th time.
She attempted to retire after the 2012 London Olympics, but the high-ranking Spanish politician found renewed vigor in 2013, earning bronze in the Moscow World Championships. Since 2014, she has been the top-ranked non-Russian jumper every year by Track & Field News, topped by her ultimate No. 1 last year. Beitia has been the Spanish record holder since she was 19 in 1998, including her best of 6-7½ (2.02) in 2007.
Vashti Cunningham is the 19-year-old reigning World Indoor champion who opened her 2017 season even higher than last year by successfully defending her U.S. Indoor title in February. Still eligible for Junior (Under 20) records, Cunningham already owns the best at the American level with her 6-6¼ (1.99) in winning last year’s World Indoor at age 18 – only eight other Americans (all much older) have ever jumped higher. The World Junior record is 6-7 (2.01), set twice in the ‘80s by athletes from countries that no longer exist – Soviet Union and East Germany.
Cunningham has other headliners in her family. Her brother, Randall II, won the NCAA title last year at Hayward Field. The siblings made history in 2015 by each winning gold medals in the high jump at the Pan-American Junior Championships in Edmonton, Canada. Randall II is named after dad, Randall, the former all-pro NFL quarterback who coaches Vashti.
Chaunte Lowe, 33, is a mother of three children whose career has experienced multiple maternity breaks since earning a World Championships silver in 2005, then known as Chaunte Howard. The American record holder at 6-8¾ (2.05) won her 13th U.S. title last year to make her fourth Olympic team only to suffer an historic feat – jumping as high as the Olympic gold medalist but, because of misses, earning no medal at all.
Lowe won the bronze medal in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Her highest medal, gold, came at the 2012 World Indoor Championships, the same year she won the Diamond League.
Hayward Field has been especially good to Lowe – she won last year’s loaded Pre Classic, and last year’s U.S. title was her fifth (third Olympic Trials) victory on the apron where she has now won 6 out of 10 times.
The fourth major gold medalist in the field is Poland’s Kamila Licwinko, who will turn 31 on March 22. She won the 2014 World Indoor Championships and last year followed with a bronze in Portland, jumping the same height as winner Cunningham. She is aiming for her first major outdoor medal after equaling her outdoor Polish record of 6-6¼ (1.99) at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, finishing 4th.
Mirela Demireva, 27, equaled her PR 6-5½ (1.97) to earn Olympic silver in Rio, the first Olympic medal for Bulgaria since 2000. She also claimed silver in last summer’s European Championships. Bulgaria is home to a pair of world record setters in this event, including 1996 Olympic gold medalist Stefka Kostadinova, who set the still-standing mark of 6-10¼ (2.09) in 1987.
Airine Palsyte, 24, knows at least some of Chaunte Lowe’s experience. She jumped just as high as the gold medalist in last year’s Portland World Indoors but has no major medal to show for it. No matter, the Lithuanian took silver in last summer’s European Championships and followed it up with gold this month at the European Indoor. Undefeated in 2017 with a PR 6-7 (2.01), Palsyte has held her country’s national record since she was 19, when she first jumped 6-5 (1.96) to claim silver in the 2011 World University Games, an event she won in 2015.
Alessia Trost, 24, of Italy has won gold medals at both the World Youth Championships (2009) and World Junior Championships (2012). She was 5th in the Rio Olympics, the best finish for her country since Sara Simeoni won gold in 1980. Trost’s best of 6-6¾ (2.00) is just shy of Simeoni’s Italian record 6-7 (2.01), a world record set twice in 1978.
Levern Spencer, 32, is from the small island of St. Lucia. With a best of 6-6 (1.98), she is the highest jumper from the Caribbean outside of Cuba. She has carried her country’s flag in the last three Olympics and in 2016 reached her best yet on the world stage, taking 6th at Rio after a 5th at the World Indoor. She was 2nd to Lowe in last year’s loaded Pre Classic. She is a former NCAA Division II champion while at Albany State College in Georgia.
|Women’s High Jump||Personal Best|
|Chaunte Lowe (USA)||6-8¾||(2.05)|
|Ruth Beitia (Spain)||6-7½||(2.02)|
|Kamila Licwinko (Poland)||6-7½||(2.02)|
|Alessia Trost (Italy)||6-6¾||(2.00)|
|Vashti Cunningham (USA)||6-6¼||(1.99)|
|Airine Palsyte (Lithuania)||6-6||(1.98)|
|Levern Spencer (St. Lucia)||6-6||(1.98)|
|Mirela Demireva (Bulgaria)||6-5½||(1.97)|
Tickets for the 43rd annual edition of the Prefontaine Classic, to be held May 26-27 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., will go on sale at 9 a.m. PT on February 10thfrom www.GoDucks.com as well as from 1-800-WEBFOOT. Sponsored by NIKE continuously since 1984, the Prefontaine Classic will be shown live to an international audience on NBC.