SE: USA Olympic Trials Packed with Pressure

Cliff Rovelto coaches four of the top five high jumpers in the United States, including K-State's Erik Kynard

June 20, 2012

By Mark Janssen

It's called the United States Olympic Trials, and according to Kansas State track coach Cliff Rovelto, "Our Olympic team comes from this one meet. Our (USA) team is the hardest team to make in the world in that the athletes select themselves by finishing in the top three. There is no other way."

So on one day, in one meet, a placing of first, second or third is needed to represent the United States of America no matter what you have done in the past month, year or four years since the last Olympic Games.

This year, that process is now underway in Eugene, Ore.

"A lot of countries have a form of the trials, but in the end, that country's track and field association can pick who they want," said Rovelto. "A guy may win at the trials, but if he's out of favor with the committee, he's not necessarily going to be on the team."

To the athletes, the United States' way of selecting the Red, White and Blue team through Gold, Silver and Bronze finishes is "...fair because we know the rules going into the competition," said K-State high jumper Erik Kynard, who is coming off a leap of 7-feet, 8-inches in winning the NCAA Championship.

Another of Rovelto's high jump pupils is Jesse Williams, who is the world leader at 7-9.75, a height he cleared two weeks ago in New York City.

"Sure there's pressure, but you enjoy it. It's fun," said Williams, who is a product of Raleigh, N.C., and graduate of USC. "Going in on that day, you better be pretty good. I might have the leading jump in the country, but on that day, I have one shot just like every other jumper competing."

Of the five leading high jumpers in the United States, Rovelto coaches four of them in Williams, Kynard, Jamie Nieto, plus Jim Dilling, who made the 2007 World Championship team, but has battled injuries.

"Cliff means the world to me," said Williams. "Without him, I'd be totally lost as an athlete. He has an unbelievable eye for the sport... the best eye for this event."

While Kynard trains as a junior on the K-State team on a daily basis, Williams stops through town only on occasion to have his skills fine-tuned by his coach.

While similar in jumping really, really, really high, Kynard and Williams go about their work in a different approach.

"Erik has an advantage on me in that he's 6-4 and I'm maybe 6-1," said Williams. "I have to be a stronger jumper using power to get over high bars. I think the fans like me in that I'm a smaller guy jumping over a high bar."

While Kynard's style might favor a tad more finesse, he keeps it as simple as he can.

"Whatever it takes to win is what I want to jump. I want to be alone in that zip code that it takes to win."

Williams will be the favorite to win the high jump competition, which begins with a qualification round on Saturday, followed by the finals on Monday. He became the first American to win the World Championship last year, and followed that up with his 7-9.75 effort earlier this month.

Kynard will be in the conversation for a medal following a junior indoor and outdoor seasons with the Wildcats where he won Big 12 titles in each event, plus successfully defended his NCAA outdoor high jump title.

"I've been training like I am a professional that is still in college," said Kynard. "I didn't jump much early (three meets prior to the Big 12, which he won), but I knew I would be able to jump high when the time came, and I have."

This week, he says, "I think the `A' standard (7-7) will win the trials. I'm not looking just to make the team, and I'm not looking at misses and makes. I'm going in looking to win the Trials. There will never be a competition that I enter where I don't plan to win. I'm not a guy who shies away from competition whether that's competing against Jesse or anyone else."

KYNARD A BOWERMAN SEMIFINALIST: Becoming only the eighth high jumper in collegiate history to clear 7-8, Kynard has been named as one of 10 semifinalists for The Bowerman Award, which is track and field's answer to football's Heisman Trophy.

The award honors former University of Oregon head coach Bill Bowerman. In addition to his history of success at Oregon, he was instrumental in helping establish the system of autonomous federations to control individual sports in the United States today and also is credited with helping fuel the jogging craze in America during the 1970's. Bowerman was a co-founder of Nike and is most recognized within the company for his creation of the waffle sole by pouring rubber on a waffle iron.

ALSO AT THE USA TRIALS: Also competing at the trials with K-State ties will be Wildcat senior Ryann Krais in the heptathlon, plus former Wildcat Amy Mortimer in the 1500-meters.

AROUND THE WORLD: Other current and former K-State athletes trying to make Olympic teams from other countries include: Mantas Silkauskas, long jump, 4x100 relay, Lithuania; Tomas Kirielius, javelin, Lithuania; Alyx Treasure, high jump, Canada; Carlos Rodriguez, 100, 4x100 relay, Puerto Rico; Boglarka Bozzay, 800, Hungary. Bettie Wade and Kasey Hill, former assistant coaches and athletes currently training with Rovelto, will also be in the heptathlon.

LONDON BOUND: Having already earned a spot on their respective Olympic teams are Jeffrey Julmis of Haiti (110-hurdles), Beverly Ramos of Puerto Rico (3,000 steeplechase), Korene Hinds of Jamaica (3,000 steeplechase), plus Austra Skujyte of Lithuania (heptathlon).

Skujyte will be competing in the heptathlon in her fourth Olympic Games, which has never been accomplished. She won the Silver Medal at the 2004 Olympic Games.

We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen or Kansas State Assistant AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.