SE: Kynard Taking Road to Rio One Jump at a Time

When former Kansas State track and field star Erik Kynard talks about high jumping, his words will not describe the height he needs to clear or even the depth of worldwide competition he needs to beat. 


No, it will be about “the process.”


The process of training for the jump. The technical process of the jump. The mental process of imagining only success before the jump.


“That process,” Kynard said. “The focus is on the process, not necessarily on jumping. Jumping is easy, it’s something that comes natural to me.”


His statement is well documented and backed up by his many achievements in the event.


Kynard won two NCAA titles with K-State before breaking out in front of the world with a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics in London. The feat made him the first U.S. male to medal in the high jump since 2004.


Since then, Kynard’s pro career has included three USATF Championships — two outdoor, one indoor — along with a bronze medal in this year’s IAAF World Indoor Championships.


All of it falls below Kynard’s standard for success, however.


“The expectation is always to win,” he said. “You always want to go out and compete at a high level and win, so that’s priority number one.”


The shortcomings have only fueled Kynard, who still lives in Manhattan and trains with K-State head track and field coach Cliff Rovelto.


“He’s always been a great competitor, but I think he’s even improved in that respect,” Rovelto said of Kynard. “We always try to breed independence, not dependence. Most of the competitions that he goes to now throughout the year, he has to travel on his own and take care of business at the competitions himself. I think that’s where he’s probably grown the most.”


In 2012, Kynard ended his collegiate career with an NCAA Outdoor title at 7-foot-8 (2.34 meters). He then finished second at the U.S. Olympic Trials, setting up his clearance of 7-7.75 (2.33 meters) in London that changed his life forever.


“I’ve been deemed more important to everybody, so I guess that’s a huge difference. But it’s the medal I never set out to try to win,” Kynard said. “I attempted to win a gold medal, but it’s very important to eliminate trying and just focus on doing. Trying assumes failure is an option, but if you only focus on the doing and not the trying, you can only be successful, you can only be at your best and achieve whatever it is you set out to achieve.”


All of Kynard’s high jumping achievements stem from a few main factors. First, his combination of talent, drive and competitiveness are a rare collection. Rovelto, however, is a close second.  


“He’s a very even-tempered and intelligent guy. Just the ability to seek knowledge in any aspect or area of life is a unique quality to have, and to be willing to take an individual part and exemplify so much patience and so much faith in the process of a person in their own maturation to help them grow is definitely a huge attribute,” Kynard, a volunteer coach for K-State, said of Rovelto. “It’s a trait I feel definitely should be mandatory in a coaching position.”


While coaching high jump may not be in Kynard’s future, the 25-year-old Ohio native has plenty of time and work left on the competitive side of the sport.


“I think I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in,” Kynard, who cleared 7-9.25 (2.37 meters) once a year from 2013-15, said, “but I think that every year until I get myself into better shape the next year.”


With it being an Olympic year, Kynard has competed less and trained more. During each practice, Rovelto reinforces what is important and ignores what is not.


“Our approach has always been to concentrate on the process and not be concerned with the end result. The end results will take care of itself if we do a good job day in and day out,” Rovelto said. “We don’t think in terms of place. He does think in terms of beating people. He never wants to get beat by anybody in any meet, which is a great characteristic to have. If he goes in and puts up the kind of mark that I know he is capable of putting up (in the Olympics), then he’s going to be in medal contention.”


Rovelto said the global competition of high jumpers — 11 other jumpers have cleared 7-6.5 (2.30 meters) or higher this year — has never been better. Still, he trusts in the process and in Kynard’s ability to perform at a high level when it matters most.


“This is a high-water mark, quite frankly, for men’s high jump in the history of the world,” said Rovelto, an assistant coach for Team USA at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this August. “In my opinion he’s as good as any of them. I definitely think he’s capable of medaling. He’d be really darn disappointed if he didn’t medal, as I would be too.”


Kynard, who holds this year’s fourth-highest clearance (7-8.5/2.35 meters) in the world, shares his coach’s belief — add in a dash more confidence. Where his maturity kicks in is his view of this summer, and it isn’t focused on the Olympic Games or even the competition that will be there quite yet.  


“I can’t tell the future, so I’m not looking past the trials right now. I have to have short-term sight. I’m focused, like a camera. I have a lens, maybe you can pick up stuff far away, but right now I’m focused in on this picture, and the current picture is the trials,” said Kynard, who will begin competing at the U.S. Olympic Trials July 8, in Eugene, Oregon, for a spot on Team USA. “At the end of the day I can knock down the bar for me and nobody else, so I just focus on me. As far as what everybody else is doing it doesn’t matter.”

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