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May 11, 2013
Kynard makes more history in final home meet
Yes, Erik Kynard, Jr. jumped into Kansas State history on Saturday. This was entirely expected. Battling a strong northerly wind amid clear skies, the record-setting senior in his final meet at R.V. Christian Track as a collegian cleared 7 feet, 5 inches, to eclipse the facility mark that stood for 15 years.
At exactly 2:32 p.m. and with the crowd clapping and children yelling and gathers leaning against the gate behind the south end of the track, Kynard on his second attempt at the record fell onto the mat, the cross bar undisturbed, while applause and cheers from several hundred purple-clad fans peaked on the edge of the campus in Manhattan.
With it, the facility record previously held by Ed Broxterman, whose high jump cleared 7 feet, 4.50 inches during the Kansas State-Nebraska dual meet in 1998, disappeared into thin air at this Ward Haylett Invitational, which served as Senior Day for the Wildcats and a fitting home finale for Kynard before he looks to regional competition in Austin in late May.
"It's funny, because I've done all of this stuff, but I didn't even have my own track record," Kynard said. "That's how I made myself motivated. I woke up this morning, ate four pancakes, and just sat back. I just wanted to come out and put on a show and have fun."
Kynard's feat Saturday came exactly one week after he cleared 7-6.50 -- nearly three inches better than any other competitor -- to become the first men's high jumper to capture three consecutive Big 12 Outdoor Track and Field Championship titles.
This piece of history in Manhattan was never in doubt.
Shortly before 2 p.m., the 6-foot-4, 195-pound Kynard emerged from the men's locker room wearing a purple windbreaker, black sweatpants, and a purple ball cap bearing light blue and yellow triangle flecks -- "JUST DO IT" with the Nike Swoosh prominent in the middle. He walked the entire infield before pulling out his measuring tape. Due to the wind, he extended his runway eight feet further from the normal 71 feet, 6 inches that he marks off at competitions.
Then Kynard sat on a purple aluminum bench named in his honor, and with arms extended across the bench, he lounged while watching four other competitors attempt -- and fail -- to even clear 7 feet before he even took center stage for his first attempt.
Kansas' Nick Giancanna finished his afternoon at 7-1.50 -- a height that Kynard cleared with ease on his first try.
Kynard missed his first attempt at 7-5 before clearing on the second try for the facility record. Then he missed all three attempts at 7-7, bounced off the mat, and headed to the gate to shake hands and pose for photos with fans.
"Today, I just wanted to put on a little show," he said. "I didn't expect to jump that far, well, maybe, but the wind played a little part today, but jumping what I did with about 80-percent interest wasn't that bad."
Therein lies clarity of the journey, which since leaving the podium in London last August, has at times shadowed Kynard to this point.
The conflict a year ago -- Kynard versus the cross bar -- has transformed into a battle that can rear itself during indoor or outdoor meets absent of any championship or medal.
This is no longer about Kynard versus the bar. This is about Kynard versus Kynard. This is about Kynard versus boredom.
"Actually, I have to try really hard to be interested, especially with the weather today, being really windy, I just had to try to care," he said. "I know it sounds bad, but I knew people came out here to watch, so I wanted to break the record at least.
"It was just practice, basically. I made some mistakes, so now I know what to do when it's windy like this."
After the regionals later this month, the 2012 Olympic silver medalist will aim for his third consecutive NCAA outdoor title at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., on June 5-8.
However, Saturday's display marked a special home finale in the college career of Kynard, who in August became the first American to medal in an Olympics since 2004. On Saturday, he also was the recipient of the Heartbeat of the Team Award given by the 299 Brigade Support Battalion, the partner unit with the track and field program.
"The award is probably the coolest thing I've ever gotten in my life," he said. "I felt like it was my call of duty. Senior Day? I didn't even know we had that. That caught me by surprise."
Although it marked his final home meet in Manhattan as an amateur, local followers will have to get used to seeing Kynard around the Flint Hills a little bit longer, as Kynard revealed to GoPowercat.com on Thursday that he plans to remain in Manhattan and train under legendary head coach Cliff Rovelto upon graduation in Business Entrepreneurship in December.
"Obviously, track and field will be my job, along with hopefully endorsements," Kynard said on Thursday. "I want to help around the community and stay involved with community service, and keep my ties to Kansas State University. It's been a while since the program has had a guy do what I've done, period, let alone with remaining eligibility, and let alone sticking around to tell the story."
For Kynard, Saturday seemed to become business as usual and another paragraph to a story that'll go down as one of the most significant in the history of K-State athletics.
"There's been a lot of great athletes in the history of Kansas State," Rovelto said. "I'm a tremendous admirer of our sport and the other sports, but you'd have to put him into the conversation of who's the greatest K-State athlete ever. And I'm not even projecting what he's going to do from here on."
Kynard contends that the nine months since he left the podium in London haven't changed him, although the 22-year-old carefree spirit does admit some daily tasks, including going to Dillon's to grab groceries, sometimes "becomes an adventure."
And Rovelto does indicate the past year has been an adventure of sorts -- an adventure that might only flourish with even better days ahead for Kynard as a professional while living and training in Manhattan.
"We're just going to keep on trying to do things whether it's in the weight room, on the track, or in competition, to just keep trying to do things better," Rovelto said. "Until you decide it's done, it's never done, and you continue to do that. He thinks in the long term and wants to be around for a while. Fortunately, he trusts me and has bought in."
This isn't just about the high jump now. It's about awareness. It's about capturing and maintaining interest.
"I just wanted to get fans interested," Kynard said. "I hope they become more interested in K-State track and field and not just what I've done. I want them to stick around, and I want people to come out and watch the whole thing, and not leave when I'm done."
After his final failed attempt on Saturday, Kynard bounced off the mat and began a walk along the gate shaking hands and taking photos with dozens of fans. He knew they were there to see him. He knew many had traveled. He knew this might've been their first and last time to see him perform at a live event.
"I hope that K-State will utilize him as an ambassador," Rovelto said. "The bottom is he's got the creditability that he's as good as there is at what he does. Aside from that, he's a great kid. He really is. He's a good person with a great heart.
"You think of all the people pulling different directions on him over the past year and the fact that he's managed it as well as he has speaks volumes."
Behind the furrowed brow of the deft competitor and the face of K-State track and field remains a college senior accustomed to executing the unusual. To wit, during Wednesday's training Kynard felt hungry, so he had Jimmy John's deliver a sandwich to the track.
"Coach looked up at me like, 'What is he doing?'" Kynard chuckled. "Hey, I was hungry."
Rovelto let out a laugh inside the locker room while recalling the story.
"Well," Rovelto concluded, "he'd gone through the whole day with finals and stuff, and at least he was bright enough to realize, 'I have to get something in me.'
"But yeah, he's a character."
Rovelto has had many, many special high jumpers at K-State. About an hour after competition, he returned to his office and emerged holding a group photo taken last year of Kynard and five other current and past Rovelto stars on the R.V. Christian Track.
What Rovelto says next extends beyond the Rovelto camp, though.
"There's no one else in the world right now that's averaging higher than what he's got," Rovelto said. "In the world, no matter how you want to shape it, or whatever, he's one of the top five guys, there's no doubt about it. Everyone that's out there right now, put them at their best, and he's still one of the five best."
Saturday's feat became the latest in a line of achievements over the past four months for Kynard, who finds himself on top of the world.
Kynard on April 21 cleared 7 feet, 8 inches at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., to post the top high-jump mark in the world so far in the outdoor season and tie his own K-State school record. He topped three others from the 2012 London Olympic Games, finally out-leaping 2011 IAAF World Champion Jesse Williams and Canada's Michael Mason, who both cleared 7-7 but would go no higher. They could only watch as the 2012 Olympic silver medalist on his third attempt eclipsed the Mt. SAC Relays meet record of 7-7.25.
And yet, Kynard recently found another task to tackle, another twinge of motivation, when Rovelto offered some fun-loving ribbing at his star while training on the R.V. Christian Track.
"Coach said, 'Man, you don't even have the record here,'" Kynard recalled Thursday. "I said, 'I don't?' It's all about getting this record here. That's what it's all about."
Kynard etched himself into Big 12 history May 4 when he became the first high jumper in Big 12 history to earn three outdoor league titles. In fact, Kynard has won six straight Big 12 championships, including a league-record three-straight indoor titles as well.
He locked up his third consecutive Big 12 outdoor title in Waco on May 4 as no competitor could come three inches of Kynard's air show.
He'll earn All-American honors for outdoor track and field again after capturing his fourth All-American honor for indoor track and field, which gave the Wildcats an All-American in the indoor men's high jump for a 10th consecutive year.
"He's done a really good job of staying motivated and it's because his motivation is winning," Rovelto said. "As long as he's doing it, he expects to win and it doesn't matter whom he's competing against. You can always get better."
Kynard earned indoor USTFCCCA Midwest Region Field Athlete of the Year honors for a third-straight year while tying his own school record, setting two facility records and breaking the Big 12 Championship mark.
At the NCAA Indoor Championship on March 9 in Fayetteville, Ark, Kynard cleared 7-6 but finished in third-place based on misses. Kynard's mark fell short of his 7-7.75 height that he cleared at the KSU Open on Feb. 16 to set a meet record, tie his own school indoor record and tie the Ahearn Field House facility mark. It also remained the top jump in the NCAA heading into the indoor championships.
As the native of Toledo, Ohio, demonstrated outdoors on a perfectly pleasant Saturday afternoon, the sky, indeed, is the limit.
The USA Track and Field Championships on June 19-23 in Des Moines, Iowa, conjures memories. He first reached his school-record 7-8 height at the NCAA Outdoor Championship last year to become only the fourth collegiate athlete to clear such a mark.
Already, he's demonstrated improvement multiple times from a year ago.
Can anything besides the wind stop Kynard?
"The wind didn't stop me today, it just kind of delayed me a little bit," he said. "I still won and I still jumped high. I'm looking to train hard, keep a level head and stay healthy, and just go out and have fun and compete. That's it."
Now headed down the stretch of his collegiate career with much on the line, Kynard likely won't have any trouble maintaining interest in this event that he continues to dominate.
"I do think he's capable of jumping significantly higher than he's jumped," Rovelto said, "and I think he's capable of jumping at these levels consistently."
There's still a world out there still to beat. It's Kynard versus the bar, Kynard versus competition, and Kynard versus himself -- a spool of dynamics at play with focus and discipline serving as Kynard's biggest allies. Each day, it demands Kynard's attention.
In a way, in the twilight of his college career, young Kynard is just reaching the runway.
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