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January 20, 2013

Kynard final jump in a home meet

Arguably the final high jump for Erik Kynard, Jr. on the Kansas State campus arrived at exactly 1:21 p.m. Saturday with the Olympic silver-medalist leaping from a purple mat and shouting at an undisturbed crossbar as cheers rained down upon The Ward Haylett Track inside Ahearn Field House.

This was the beginning. And, in fact, this was also the end.

"We didn't know if he'd have another chance to jump at home," head coach Cliff Rovelto said. "We did something that we ideally wouldn't want to do, but we wanted the people at home to see him jump today."

The Wildcat Invitational served as Kynard's opening statement for 2013. The triple dual meet, which featured Oklahoma State, Tulsa and UMKC, served as a warmup of sorts for Kynard before No. 22 K-State faces its first major test at the Bill Bergen Invitational next weekend in Ames, Iowa.

Kynard owns a personal best of 7 feet, 7.75 inches, which is tied for third all-time in the history of NCAA Indoor Track and Field competition. So truth is, Kynard requires little warmup to reach the rarest of air on the biggest of stages. But Saturday was important. It was important to him that he jumped in front of K-State fans for his last time at an indoor event inside the Old Barn.

"I'm just blessed," he said. "I'm humbled that everyone would come out and show their support. Regardless if it's 5,000 people or five people in the stands, my job is to jump."

And in his final year as an amateur, his occupation is to rewrite record books.

"As an athlete, you want to emulate greatness and create your own greatness," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do."

Thousands of times, he has fought with the crossbar -- shouting matches with the inanimate object, his main competitor who taunts him, testing his sanity, testing his will and testing his limits. And five months -- exactly 165 days -- had passed since the 21-year-old Toledo native felt unimaginable applause from the 80,000-capacity crowd at Olympic Stadium in London even after the bar, once resting at a record 7 feet, 8.75 inches, sat upon the mat. That night in London, the bar won.

But amid camera flashes, Kynard's name ascended to international heights at the 2012 Summer Games.

Well, the two-time defending NCAA Outdoor Champion, the 6-foot-4, 193-pound senior who pushed aside professional aspirations so that he might conclude one of the greatest careers of any track and field athlete ever to hit the Little Apple, embarked on this journey in 2013 by putting on a memorable display inside the Old Barn.

And Kynard, ranked No. 2 by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USFTCCCA) entering the 2013 NCAA Indoor Track and Field season, issued an emphatic statement in front of several thousand purple-clad supporters, many of whom likely caught their final live glimpse at Kynard as an official amateur.

Here's what Kynard did Saturday. He cleared 7 feet, 6 inches (2.29 meters) for the best indoor high-jump mark by a collegiate athlete in America so far in 2013 and the best-ever mark at the Wildcat Invitational.

"I'm moving well today," he said. "We're still in tough training. I'm surprised I'm moving this well, actually. I wasn't looking to jump high this time of the year but with somebody else holding the (previous national) mark at 2.28, I figured maybe I'll jump 2.29."

He flashed a grin when informed that he fell just short of the all-time Ahearn Field House record of 7.7 feet (2.33 meters) set by former K-Stater Nathan Leeper. He already knew. He knew this much as well.

"I knew for a fact that Coach wouldn't let me try that (height)," Kynard chuckled. "Not this early (in the season)."

Seemingly a small eternity has passed since those rainy days of London, of wearing the Team USA garb, of flashing the silver medal to America on the Today Show, of exchanging laughs while sitting on set next to David Letterman.

What's changed about Kynard through all of this?

"Nothing," Rovelto said. "Same guy."

Understand Kynard turns 22 years old in two weeks. Already he's had an Erik Kynard Day decreed by the Mayor of Manhattan. He's had an Erik Kynard Day back home in Toledo, where he also received the Key to the City.

But Kynard, named to the 2013 Bowerman Watch List -- track and field's equivalent to the Heisman Trophy -- doesn't own all the honors and records. And he doesn't yet have his college diploma while majoring in Business Entrepreneurship.

"There were people thought that he would've and should've gone pro," Rovelto said. "Aside from finishing his degree, there's also the element that a lot of people don't understand, which is that he isn't quite ready for that next step. He's still a young guy. There are still a lot of things that he hasn't experienced. This year, he'll gain those and be that much better for it. It's the same thing with football and basketball. He recognized that and his family recognized that.

"He has an opportunity to do some special stuff. He wants to jump at records and collegiate records and all of those things. He'll have those opportunities this year."

-- Cliff Rovelto

"He has an opportunity to do some special stuff. He wants to jump at records and collegiate records and all of those things. He'll have those opportunities this year."

Eight minutes before his final jump, Kynard showed his confidence. After clearing his first three heights with ease, he sat on a steel bench about 50 feet from the crossbar. He turned and yelled, "2.29!" Everybody knew what that meant: He wanted to go for the current top height among all collegiate competitors in America.

He leaned over and retied his black Nikes adorned with the fluorescent yellow Swoosh, sprung from the bench in his all-purple uniform with gray accentuating the upper chest. He pulled up his trademark purple-and-white socks a little bit taller.

Then, as he does prior to each of his attempts, he raised his arms, looked up at the crowd, and yelled to them, "COME ON!"

And then he began "The Clap." The same clap of anticipation that filled 80,000 at Olympic Stadium five months ago hit Ahearn Field House in unison and echoed the walls.

"It's great," Kynard would say later. "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is coming up, and he spoke out in front of Ahearn and got applause. And now here I am inside Ahearn getting applause. That’s pretty surreal within itself."

His left hip caught the bar on his first attempt. "AHHHHHH!" he yelled, staring down the bar.

"Come on, you all!" he shouted again moments later, firing up "The Clap" once more. "Come on!"

He tipped the bar again on his second attempt. And groans filled the arena. And Kynard pulled himself from the mat and ambled over to a seated Rovelto and he leaned over his coach and nodded.

"He still understands what he needs to do to be successful," Rovelto said. "He's still working at those same things.

"The only thing is, obviously, there's a little more confidence."

One more time, thunder filled Ahearn. And fans held cell phones to capture the moment. And fellow athletes stood and watched the final approach.

During a second of silence, somebody yelled, "Let's go EEEEEEEE!!!!"

The only thing missing from the ensuing victory scene was Kynard racing around the arena draped in an American flag.

He somersaulted onto the mat then sprang up, pumping both fists while in midair, and howled under furrowed brow at the crossbar that still stood. Upon reaching the track, he bounced and ran with both arms high in the air.

Then he stopped and took an official final bow to a standing ovation and a cascade of cheers from the crowd above.

And then somebody announced Kynard's feat and handed him a microphone.

"First of all, I want to thank you all for coming out," he began. "We appreciate your support greatly."

"I won't let victory defeat me. Victory can defeat athletes."

-- Erik Kynard, Jr.

A pack of reporters and TV cameras greeted Kynard after he basked in another round of applause.

"I won't let victory defeat me," he said. "Victory can defeat athletes. You achieve great things, especially at an early age, and your head begins to grow a little bit. You go into competition expecting everybody else to move out of the way. I don't expect the Red Sea to part for me. I don't expect anybody to bow down."

And he knows nobody will bow. Not with a target the size of an Olympic ring on his back.

Moments later, while sitting on the bench and untying his shoes, he looked up at the crowd.

"I want to say hi to some people up there," he said, "but I'm afraid if I do I won't be able to come back down."

And therein lies the change: Erik Kynard has to live with being Erik Kynard.

"It's a lot more stressful," said Kynard, who nearly spent more time posing for photographs than actually competing in the event. "I like to respond to my fans. My privacy is probably the only thing I need back out of the whole ordeal. It's difficult and stressful at times, but it comes with the territory.

"To whom much is given, much is required."

This much is given: Kynard has a checklist for 2013. He keeps it tucked inside his head.

Saturday marked the beginning to this weekly checklist.

"To jump at 2.29 again and to not miss twice, then to jump higher than 2.29 -- that's the next step for me," he said.

And when will that time come?

"Next weekend."






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