June 24, 2013
This feature appeared in the June 24 edition of the K-State Sports Extra.
By Mark Janssen
A part of Team Kansas State for the past four years, Erik Kynard has now taken his talents to Team Nike and has continued his championship ways.
Just two days after Kansas State volunteer coach Bettie Wade placed second in the heptathlon to make Team USA that will compete in the World Championships in Moscow, Russia, August 10-18, it was Kynard that won the gold medal in the high jump by clearing 7-5¾ on Sunday to earn another spot on Team USA.
Saying he was too close to the bar on his take-off, Kynard said of his title, “I was a little disappointed, but a win is a win.”
It’s hard to imagine a more decorated K-State athlete… perhaps ever … as the Wildcat high jumper won six Big 12 titles (plus two runner-up finishes), two NCAA titles (plus four other top-five finishes) … and … oh yes, an Olympic Silver Medal at the 2012 London Games, and now his first title at the U.S. Championships.
Kynard, K-State’s all-time record holder at 7-8¾, recently graciously offered his time to “Sports Extra” for a look back on his four-year college career where he became the most elite high jumper at “High Jump U.”
Sports Extra: I remember chatting with you in Ahearn Field House shortly after you arrived four years ago. It’s hard to believe that was four years ago.
Erik Kynard: It’s gone extremely fast. It seems like yesterday that I was fresh out of high school and on my way to Kansas. Now I’m fresh out of college and on my way to Europe.
SE: If four years ago someone would have told you that you would be an Olympic Medalist, multiple-multiple time Big 12 champion and NCAA champion, and a 7-8 high jumper … would you have been believed it?
EK: Sure. Absolutely. In no way have I accomplished things beyond my own expectations I had for myself. I haven’t done anything that I wasn’t capable of doing. I understand I haven’t re-invented the wheel in any way, but I’ve done what I’ve trained to do. I came out on top quite a few times, and fell short a few times.
SE: Fell short a few times … what does “not” winning do to you?
EK: Anytime you don’t do what you expect to do, it fuels the fire. I’m a workaholic and any time I lose I take that as extra motivation for the next go-round. I don’t consider myself a bad sport, but I’m not a pleasant person to be around when I don’t win. I get sick. I don’t mean throw-up sick, but I’m not a man of many words if I don’t win. I definitely do not favor losing.
SE: Coach Rovelto has said he’s never had an athlete work harder than you.
EK: I thank him for that. I do work extremely hard. Looking ahead, I told him the other day I need to learn how to work smarter because I can’t work any harder.
SE: Erik, back to your high school expectations. Did you truly believe that you would be an Olympian when you were in high school?
EK: Of course. I’m not surprised. There’s a difference between thinking something and believing something. A lot of guys ‘think’ they can be in the Olympics, but I ‘believed’ I could be in the Olympics. It was going to be done. My mind was made up at a young age. It wasn’t a matter of thinking I could do it, I knew I could do it.
SE: Just curious … what’s your next goal. What’s the next thing you ‘believe’ that you will do? E
K: (Laughing) You know me better than that. You already know I won’t answer that. Some goals are for the world, some for the press, but some I keep to myself. If people don’t know your dreams they can’t shoot them down. The moment LeBron James says he’s going to win eight NBA titles, there be a line of people telling him that he can’t do that. All I’ll say is that every competition is an opportunity to win. It’s a platform to exemplify your hard work. I do plan on continue winning. Let’s leave it at that.
SE: Do you see yourself clearing 8-feet some day?
EK: (Laughing) Again, you know me better than that. When that time comes, I’ll tell you that I’m ready.
SE: You averaged clearing the bar at 7-6-plus for your entire senior year, and you’ve cleared nearly 7-9. Do those bars seem high anymore?
EK: All bars look high. I’m only 6-4½. But coach Rovelto does a good job of showing me high bars all the time, so I don’t go into shock when I see a bar that’s way up there. So much of that is mental, and I think my mental is good, so no bar is too high.
SE: Cliff Rovelto. What does your coach mean to you?
EK: Wow … he’s a brand name. He’s everything to me. He’s a brother to me, a father to me … (grinning) … I tell him I’m his grandson. He’s my best friend; he’s my buddy; he’s my coach. He’s the best coach that there is.
SE: When you speak, it’s always ‘coach’ Rovelto, where a lot of athletes call their coach by a first name.
EK: They do, but I never will. He is ‘coach.’ I say that out of respect. To me, he’ll never be ‘Cliff’ today, tomorrow or on down the road when I’m through with jumping. He will always be ‘coach’ Rovelto.
SE: And what does Kansas State University mean to you?
EK: It’s my college. (Sly grin) Do you want me to get emotional? No, it’s somewhere that I’ve grown as an athlete and a young man. I’ve learned a lot from my coaches and the community has been good to me.
SE: You’ll graduate in December with a degree in Business-Entrepreneurship. Did you enjoy your school years at K-State.
EK: (Laughing) I can’t say that. What I was really interested in, I enjoyed. Some of the other classes, I didn’t (enjoy). I did not like school, but my mom would kill me if I didn’t finish. But let me say this. I’m extremely excited about getting my degree in December. That will be a special day … more special than winning the Silver Medal. Graduation will be a huge accomplishment … more enormous than the Olympics, and that was a pretty neat feeling.
SE: Your peak years for a high jumper are six to eight years away, but after a couple more Olympiad … what might you do with that degree?
EK: Good question because I don’t know. Maybe a consultant. (Grinning) I’m good at giving advice and people tend to listen to me. But I will be working on other aspects of my life because my knees won’t last forever. I’m a planner; I will plan my success. I’ll be the architect to what I want to transpire.
SE: You have a tattoo of the five Olympic Rings on your right arm. Did that happen after you qualified, or after you won Silver?
EK: That’s a tradition. Win a medal and get a tattoo. It was an honorable moment to get it. It’s not just a ring, or one circle, or five separate circles. It’s the Olympic symbol. It means all the work is worth it. It’s just a daily reminder of the sacrifices made to reach a goal.
SE: Had you not medaled …
EK: There would have been no tattoo.
SE: That tattoo, and what it stands for, can mean a bundle of dollars for performing at meets. Word has it well into six figures in signing with a shoe company, appearance fees and additional monies for winning. Will jumping for dollars change Erik Kynard?
EK: Not at all. I’ve survived in Manhattan off $800 a month from my scholarship and I don’t have many needs above that. My shoes will be free, so I’m more interested in planning for life when I’m 30. I might get a car, but I’m not going to blow it all on a car.
SE: You recently signed professionally with Nike. Did you enjoy that experience?
EK: When you’re a good athlete, all the good guys want you. It came down to minute details that make a person who they are. I wanted the best opportunity at the lowest cost. I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. I wanted guys intelligent in a number of areas. I know that I can do other things than jump over bars. I have other areas I can pursue outside of wearing spandex and jumping over bars.