This is another milestone week for Erik Kynard, Jr., to remember.
The 2012 Olympic high jump silver medalist and Kansas State University senior is as busy as he’s ever been since arriving in Manhattan, Kansas four years ago as a wide-eyed college freshman from Toledo.
Yet, this is the first week in Kynard’s track and field career where he’ll compete as a professional athlete.
The high-jumping 22-year-old signed a four-year shoe and apparel endorsement deal with Nike on Monday and will compete this afternoon during the final day of the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships taking place in Des Moines, Iowa. (Track and field competition taking place on the final day of the meet is scheduled to air on Universal Sports, 2-3 p.m.; NBC Sports Network, 3-4 p.m., NBC, 4-6 p.m.)
“This means I have a job now,” said Kynard, regarding his multi-year deal with arguably the world’s most recognizable athletic apparel and shoe company. When asked about the contract, he opted not to share the financial terms of the deal other than it’s a four-year agreement.
After garnering two NCAA Division I outdoor high jump championships, numerous individual meet titles, and being named an All-American eight times (four indoor, four outdoor), Kynard is ready to take his high-jumping talents to the next level.
It’s time for the world class athlete to leap full time into the life of a professional athlete, which is something he envisioned about himself even as far back as before he became a two-time Division I Ohio high school champion while at Rogers.
“The thing with dreaming and goals, they have to be recalculated and re-adjusted,” he said. “This [becoming a pro athlete] is something I expected and something I worked toward that I saw come to fruition.”
As a track and field athlete that means making the most of every opportunity, or every single meet. Event winners involving pro track and field athletes can be awarded cash prizes at certain meets, particularly those designated as part of the track and field pro circuit tour.
It means keeping the perspective that winning reaps rewards, whether or not it’s as an amateur or pro.
“The approach is the same,” he said. “I still enjoy what I do and I don’t consider it work.
“The goal is victory.”
Rogers track coach Eric Browning said Kynard’s current state as a pro is a culmination of his commitment to his craft.
“He’s gotten a little bit better every year,” Browning said. “He’s made all the right decisions and put in all the hard work.”
When Kynard was a freshman at Start, he advanced to the D-I state meet and tied for fourth after clearing 6-foot-6. The winning height was 6-8.
The ultra-competitive ninth-grader left Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium disappointed and believing he should have won the state championship even though he was the only freshman or sophomore among the 16 state finalists.
Kynard’s mother, Brandynn Adams, speaks daily with her son.
He will remain in Manhattan to train with Kansas State track coach Cliff Rovelto, who is recognized as one of the world’s best high jump coaches. He’s also working on completing his undergraduate degree and is on course to graduate in December with a degree in business.
Kynard informed his mother and the rest of his immediate family about signing with Nike over the phone. She thinks her son, who owns a career-best jump of 2.36 meters (7 feet, 8.75 inches), which also stands as the nation’s best mark this year, will continue to be as competitive as he’s ever been.
“I think it’s a different approach to it, as far as he’s finally getting paid,” Adams said. “I don’t think it will change his drive. I think he’ll still compete to win.”
Kynard finished his amateur career a few weeks ago at the NCAA Championship meet where he cleared 2.31 meters (7-7) and placed second to Indiana University’s Derek Drouin. He competed in seven meets during the 2013 outdoor season, finishing first on four occasions and second in three other meets.
He competed in six meets during the 2013 indoor season, placing first in five of the six outings. However, he came in third place in the NCAA indoor championship despite cleanly clearing 2.29 meters (7-6).
Despite finishing first in nine out of 13 outings during his final year of college eligibility, Kynard closed out his amateur career with ambivalent feelings. He would have preferred to win every time out.
“It’s been a roller-coaster,” he said. “It just hasn’t been a steady ride. It’s been an uphill battle.”
Yet, meet results don’t quite tell Kynard’s competitive story since he leaped into national prominence last summer by bringing an unexpected Olympic silver medal back to the United States from London. Kynard, who made appearances after the Olympics on national talk shows, including The Late Show with David Letterman and Today, averaged 2.31 meters (7-7) per meet during his last outdoor season.
“To look at where he’s at now from where he was in high school, he’s firmly planted himself as the best high jumper in the nation and one of the three best jumpers in the world,” Browning said.
Kynard’s steadiness basically has made him a likely favorite to win the high jump event whenever he shows up to compete. It also helped the 6-foot-4 Kynard draw attention from athletic shoe and apparel companies like Nike.
“I’m extremely pleased,” he said, of his Nike deal. “No complaints.”
As far as his approach to competing in a meet for the first time as a pro athlete today at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Kynard’s “goal is victory” like it’s always been in the past.
“The only thing that will change is my uniform,” Kynard said.
He’ll be one of the guys wearing a swoosh.