As the nation's top track and field athletes converge on Eugene, Ore., today for the U.S. Olympic Trials, two men with local ties enter the fray in their respective events from vastly different perspectives.
For 2009 Rogers High School graduate Erik Kynard -- the former two-time Ohio Division I state high jump champion, who now has two NCAA Division I championships to his credit while competing for Kansas State -- the meet puts him seemingly within an eyelash of one of his athletic dreams.
Kynard recently cleared a personal record 7 feet, 8 inches (2.34 meters) to win his second straight NCAA title at Drake University in Des Moines. If he finishes among the top three high jumpers at meet's end, he will be named to the U.S. Olympic Team. The noted publication, Track and Field News, has predicted Kynard to place third at the trials.
"I'm really just trying to stay relaxed going in, and do what I do," said Kynard, who will compete in Saturday's qualifying round. "I'm not really anticipating anything. It's two rounds, and I'm just going to cross the bridges as I come to them.
"I'm going to jump Saturday in the first round, hopefully make the finals, and then jump in the finals and try to win."
Kynard, 21, says his experience at the 2008 Olympic trials, after his junior year at Rogers, should help him avoid any nervousness that might otherwise affect his performance.
"I'm no stranger to Eugene, so I'll definitely be one of the not-nervous competitors," Kynard said. "I'll treat it like a regular meet."
As for shot-put hopeful Derrick Vicars -- the former prep standout at Genoa and Delta high schools, who is the 2012 NCAA Division II national shot-put champion from the University of Findlay -- the Olympic trials likely represent more experience than opportunity.
Unlike Kynard, who was a nationally recognized high jump prodigy while still at Rogers, Vicars is something of a late bloomer in his event. His arrival in Eugene is the byproduct of a relentless weight-training and throwing regimen over the last four years.
In that time he has transformed the bodyweight on his 6-foot-1 1/2-inch frame from 190 to 250 pounds.
"It's pretty amazing," Vicars said of reaching the trials, which will be held at Oregon University's Hayward Field. "It's been one of my goals to someday make the Olympic trials. Coming in [to college] as a little freshman, I didn't know if it would be in 2012. But I worked so hard and it's pretty awesome to be headed out there.
"I came out of high school a really small guy, so I did lots of lifting and a countless number of throws. I never really took any time off. I was always a smaller guy, and I needed to catch up, so I haven't taken too many breaks over the last four years. I just kept pushing through."
While in high school, Vicars was better known for his football exploits as a three-year starter for his father's [Mike Vicars] teams at Delta, and then his senior year when he was a first-team Division IV All-Ohio running back for Genoa, where his dad's Comet team began a run of 48 straight regular-season victories.
But it was the individual aspect of track and field, where an athlete's personal dedication and training habits determine the degree of success, which captured Derrick Vicars' attention after he qualified for his first Ohio state meet as a sophomore in 2006 while at Delta.
"I had always been into football," Vicars said, "but track is an individual sport and it was all on me, whatever I did. I could work as hard as I wanted and try to be as good as I wanted.
"When I made state that first year it really kind of motivated me. I kept working hard after that, I kept seeing good results, and I fell in love with the sport."
Vicars placed third in the Ohio D-III state shot put competition in 2007 for Delta, then took third in both the shot and the discus in the 2008 D-II state meet while at Genoa.
Vicars, 23, spent one semester at the University of Cincinnati before transferring to Findlay, where he has completed his junior year of eligibility. In 2010, he won an NCAA Division II national championship in the discus, and four weeks ago he won an NCAA D-II title in the shot put with an effort of 62 feet, 10 inches with the 16 pound college shot.
Last Friday in a meet held at the University of Toledo, Vicars sealed his Olympic trials entry with a PR of 65-0 3/4. But earning one of the three spots on the U.S. team would require something of a Herculean effort.
What are his odds of getting to London for the 2012 Summer games (July 27-Aug. 12)?
"I'd say a million to one," Vicars said. "I've thrown 65 feet this year, which is five feet better than last year. So, that's really good progress for me.
"But, there's five or six guys in America over 71 feet, and the Olympic A-standard is [67-3 1/4]. There's 12 guys in America over that. So, any chances of my making it would have to be a million to one. It would take something crazy. I'm coming in [ranked] like 17th or 18th."
"I'm going to use this as a great experience for this year," said Vicars, who will begin in the qualifying round at 6 p.m. Saturday. "I have goals in the future, four years down the line. Hopefully, I'll be one of those top eight or so guys.
"Right now, I'm just happy to be there. It's a dream come true, and I can't wait to compete with those big names out there."
Where the shot put weight has increased from 12 pounds (high school regulation) to 16 pounds (college and international competition) for Vicars, the high jump runway and the bar are pretty much the same for Kynard.
The biggest difference for him -- high school to college -- has been adding state-of-the-art technique to his seemingly limitless athletic ability to soar.
"In high school I wouldn't say I was unlimited in talent," said the slender, 6-foot-4 Kynard. "I might have been limited in my technique to what the coaching staff at Rogers knew.
"But Kansas State is the top high-jump university, and I have a great coach [Cliff Rovelto]. It wasn't just one thing we took and fixed. It was physical makeup, lifting in the weight room, and the technical aspects. Everything was fine-tuned all around."
Kynard isn't taking anything for granted this weekend, but points out that making the U.S. team is only a starting point on the path to his next career goal.
"It'll mean a lot to me if I make it," Kynard said. "It's something you dream about when you participate in high school and middle school. You dream about going to the Olympics if you're going to be serious about it.
"It would mean a great deal to make the U.S. team, but I don't only aspire to be an Olympian. I want to win in the Olympics, and I have other dreams as well. This is just another checkoff on my bucket list."
The qualifying round for the high jump begins at 7:20 p.m. (EDT), and Monday's finals are scheduled for 8:50 p.m.
ALLEN ALSO AT TRIALS: Joe Allen, a 1997 Roger grad who won an Ohio Division I state long jump championship as a senior that year, will also be competing in that event in the trials in Eugene.
After his time at Rogers, Allen competed at Barton County Community College and then at Florida State University.
As a professional, he has finished among the top 10 long jumpers in America.
Contact Steve Junga at: firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6461, or on Twitter @JungaBlade