LONDON — When you wear American flag socks pulled up halfway to your knees in your Olympic high jump debut, it's hard to shuffle off in eighth place.
"No way," Erik Kynard said. "I had to represent. I had to. But you can't wear these socks and finish second either. My mom's gonna kill me."
Ohio's high jump champ at Rogers High School in 2008 and '09, Kynard found that the silver around his neck matched the stars and stripes on his feet, taking second at Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night. Six of the other 13 jumpers in the competition entered with personal bests higher than Kynard, and though he wanted gold, on this stage in a light rain, he came close to his potential while others faltered. Kynard finished second at 2.33 meters (7.64 feet, which is almost 7 feet, 7¾ inches) when his all-time best was 2.34 meters. Russia's Ivan Ukhov took the gold at 2.38 meters, and there was a three-way tie for the bronze at 2.29 meters.
"I handle pressure very well," Kynard said. "I try not to conform to my environment. The Olympic Stadium is a big stage and I'm a big guy, so it fit me."
A two-time NCAA outdoor champion at Kansas State, where he will be a senior, Kynard was sent the socks before he came to London by a cousin who now lives in Dallas and is a barber and stylist.
"He knows I'm pretty stylish," Kynard said.
So far at the Olympics, though, Kynard was best known for looking like basketball star Kobe Bryant, a resemblance that LeBron James noted at the Opening Ceremonies, sending out a picture on Twitter of Kynard and Bryant together. Kynard said he's been mistaken for Bryant more than once.
"I tried to win the gold so I could let the world know my name is Erik Kynard, Jr., not Kobe, Jr." Kynard said. "But hey, maybe they'll appreciate my silver and call me Erik now."
Kynard at least was able to perform in front of his namesake. He had told his family in Toledo not to come to London, figuring he had enough pressure already without them in the crowd. But his father, Erik, Sr., and his grandfather Lawrence came anyway, informing Kynard with a phone call just before his qualifying on Sunday.
"I don't know why he would do that. It was like another load on my back," Kynard said with a smile. "But it worked out, so it's all good."
Kynard hugged his father soon after missing his final attempt at 2.40 meters, which he said he visualized making before the jump. He would have needed that to move past Ukhov, the 2010 world champ who once was chastised by the international track and field federation for competing drunk at a meet in Switzerland in 2008. Kynard then tucked his socks into his warmup pants, draped an American flag over his shoulders and took off on a lap around the stadium.
"I almost passed out," Kynard said. "I'm not trained for a quarter mile. Holding that flag, it seemed like it got heavier with every step. I would have been better off just sporting the socks, but I got it done."
Others did not, like defending world champ Jesse Williams of the United States, who had a career best of 2.37 meters but cleared nothing better than 2.25 meters and tied for ninth.
"Being the world champ, there's definitely a spotlight on me, but 2.29, that's something I should never go out on, but it happened," Williams said. "It hurts."
Kynard was clearly able to channel his emotions in the right direction, bouncing on the pad even after his misses at 2.36 meters, 2.38 meters, and 2.40 meters and acting like he wanted to toss the bar away. He seemed like the confident 21-year-old he is, which means there's a lot left in his high jumping career.
"It's amazing," said 35-year-old American Jamie Nieto, who finished sixth. "That guy is the future and the present right now for high jumping. I think he's going to have an amazing career."
He's already as good as anyone in the United States. In their last 10 Olympics, Team USA men have won just one high jump gold, from Charles Austin in 1996. Kynard's silver is the third in that time span. And at these Olympics, Kynard performed as well as any American track and field athlete. Through 12 events, the U.S. men have no golds. They have four silvers, with Kynard and 1,500-meter runner Leonel Manzano joining 400-meter hurdler Michael Tinsley and 10,000-meter runner Galen Rupp.
Team USA women have won two golds with 400-meter champ Sonya Richards-Ross and pole-vaulter Jennifer Suhr. The women took two medals, both in the 100-meter hurdles, with Dawn Harper second and Kellie Wells third.
Kynard plans to join those gold medalists someday. He said when he won his first Ohio high school title in 2008, it just made him want another one. He got it. He has the same plan for the Olympics.
"I'm young and I'll be around for a while," Kynard said. "I'm going home with some hardware, so I can't complain. I'll be back. I'll see you all in Rio."
He'll be the Kobe-looking guy in the socks.