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Published: Sunday, 7/22/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Setting the bar high

Kynard aims at taking gold in London

BY DONALD EMMONS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Erik Kynard trains earlier this month at Rogers High School where he became a two-time state champion high jumper. He finished in the top three at the U.S. Olympic trials to go to the Games. Erik Kynard trains earlier this month at Rogers High School where he became a two-time state champion high jumper. He finished in the top three at the U.S. Olympic trials to go to the Games.
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Erik Kynard, Jr., exudes confidence and plenty of pogo-stick prowess.

A lack of self-esteem has never been an issue for the 21-year-old Toledoan who is one of the world's best high jumpers.

"I'm excellent," Kynard said, days before competing in the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore. "Honestly, I'm ready to go."

Kynard met his goal and earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic track and field team set to compete at the London Games, which will begin Friday with the opening ceremony.

The two-time NCAA outdoor high jump champion qualified for the Olympics by finishing second at the U.S. trials after clearing a height of 7 feet, 5 3/4 inches.

"I thought he was going to be good, but I didn't think he would be this good," said Kynard's father, Erik, Sr., who was a standout high school track athlete two decades ago.

Yet, Kynard, Jr.'s, feat has not taken anyone completely by surprise who has witnessed his development as a high jumper during the last seven years. He's long been on this journey.

Erik Kynard is a two-time NCAA outdoor champion at Kansas
State. He cleared 7 feet, 5 3/4 inches at the U.S. Olympic trials. Erik Kynard is a two-time NCAA outdoor champion at Kansas State. He cleared 7 feet, 5 3/4 inches at the U.S. Olympic trials.
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Kynard, a two-time Ohio Division I state champion, actually participated in the 2008 Olympic trials during the summer between his junior and senior years at Rogers High School.

However, he was not a threat to make the Olympic team during his first go-around. He cleared 7 feet before his first Olympic trials appearance ended with him failing to clear 7-2 on three attempts.

"My first time going to the trials I went for the experience," he said. "It was kind of like a dream. I was checking it out a little bit -- testing the waters."

Kynard cleared a personal-best height of 7-8 at the NCAA Division I championships this spring. It rates as one of the top three jumps in the world this year.

It's a long way from when he first took an interest in the event as a middle-school student.

"It's been unbelievably fast, but I'm on a perfect time-line," he said. "I was 17 then and now I'm 21."

World ranked

Rogers track coach Eric Browning still communicates regularly with Kynard more than three years since the Ohio state record-holder for the high jump (7-2 3/4) last competed as a Ram.

However, the young, wiry teenager that Browning worked with is no longer the prep standout with plenty of upside.

He's become the new man on the block. He is No. 4 in the world rankings.

"He's four years older, four years stronger, and a lot more experienced," Browning said.

Kansas State coach Cliff Rovelto is primarily the reason Kynard passed on other scholarship offers, which included Ohio State. Rovelto is considered one of the best coaches for the high jump in the world. All three U.S. men high jumpers heading to London (Jessie Williams, Jamie Nieto, and Kynard) have spent time with Rovelto.

Kynard hasn't disappointed Rovelto with his steady progress.

"Physically, he's matured a great deal," Rovelto said. "Part of that has happened naturally, but I think he's worked very hard. He's a lot stronger and a lot faster.

"As much as he's improved physically, he's improved just as much competitively."

Dedicated to be best

Kynard recently finished his junior year at Kansas State. The Big 12 university in Manhattan, Kan., has become Kynard's home away from home.

"It's 25 hours a day, eight days a week as a college track athlete," Kynard said of his commitment to being a world class high-jumper.

Rovelto believes Kynard has the goods to eventually set himself apart from other world class high jumpers he's coached. However, the veteran coach isn't ready to say his newest phenom is a lock to return home from London with a medal.

"He's just beginning his high jump career," Rovelto said. "I think it's fair to say at this age -- chronologically and training -- perhaps I think he's further ahead at this particular time.

"Ultimately, will he surpass those other guys [I've coached], I don't know. But I don't have any doubt that he can."

Kynard's mother, Brandynn Adams, said her son has always been driven to do his best at whatever he gets involved in. She recalls him creating a goal sheet as a sophomore in high school and writing "qualify for the Olympics" as one of his goals.

"He wants to be the best," she said. "He's not just doing it. He wants to be the best and he's focused."

Competitive early

His winning pursuits are something that have been a part of his being long before he ever attempted to leap over a high bar. His push to finish No. 1 was even apparent as a child when he first delved into sports.

"He started running track at 5 and he didn't like losing at 5," his mother said.

Yet, young Kynard showed plenty of promise even then. Like his father, he was quicker than most his age and seemed to be following in his father's footsteps as a sprinter.

"Track and field came naturally to him and he liked it," Kynard's mother said.

His fondness for the sport tapered off at around age 9 and he started to take a liking to football. There was a period during elementary school and junior high when it looked like football would become his sport of choice, showing signs of becoming a talented wide receiver.

Ultimately, his attention in high school began to lean more toward track and field. He found competing in an individual event more to his liking and more in his control.

Kynard's success as a high jump competitor was evident even in his freshman year at Start. He reached the Division I state meet, finishing tied for fourth after clearing 6-6.

Kynard transferred to Rogers and became a state runner-up as a sophomore after working with Browning, a former high school and college high jump standout. He was the lone sophomore among the 16 finalists at the state meet, vowing he would win a state championship in the future.

Kynard won the state title the next two years.

"I love to win," he said. "I'm not satisfied with second. I want to win."

Kynard chose Kansas State over dozens of colleges that recruited him. Having the opportunity to be instructed by Rovelto practically made it a no-brainer decision.

Family athleticism

Ironically, the elder Kynard received a scholarship offer from Kansas State approximately two decades earlier.

However, after experiencing a successful high school track career, which included finishing fourth at the Division I state meet in the 100 meters, Kynard, Sr., opted to run at the University of Toledo. He chose to attend UT and not go away to college primarily because his high school girlfriend was expecting a child.

That child was Erik, Jr.

The young parents never got married. They went on to create families of their own over time, and remained committed to working together as parents to Erik, Jr.

"We were young, lived and learned, and became parents," Adams said. "It was life-changing for both of us. For anyone to become parents at a young age they either will have to figure out they need to work together or they're going to struggle trying to compete. We decided we would work together as much as we could."

Attending UT allowed Erik, Sr., to stay close to home.

"I remember my dad always saying, 'I should have went to Kansas State,' " Kynard Jr. said.

Eventually, a Kynard, made it to Manhattan, Kan.

The elder Kynard isn't claiming responsibility for his son's exceptional high jump skills.

"My highest jump in high school was six feet," Kynard, Sr., said.

As the younger Kynard prepares for the London Olympics, his parents are looking forward to watching their son on TV.

Plans to make the trip were ruled out in part due to the cost and also after realizing their interaction with their son would be quite limited because of the time constraints put on the competitors.

That will not hinder support for their son, hoping he brings home the gold to Toledo.

Contact Donald Emmons at: demmons@theblade.com, 419-724-6302, or on Twitter @DemmonsBlade.



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