Erik Kynard had the seat all to himself with his arms spread wide over the back of the bench. The rest of his high jump competitors squeezed onto a bench behind him.
There was no doubt as to who the star was Sunday, as Kynard sat and waited for his turn at the high jump bar and an event he was supposed to win.
The Kansas State junior didn’t disappoint the hoards of fans that flocked to the south end of the R.V. Christian Track Complex to see one of the country’s best high jumpers.
Kynard cruised past the competition on the final day of the Big 12 Outdoor Track and Field Championships to win his second straight league title with a jump of 7-feet-3-inches, completing another leg of the path he hopes leads to the London Olympic Games later this summer.
“Any time I’m in a competition, my first goal is to win,” he said. “I’m not coming out here and saying I want to jump 8 feet and finish second, but I’ll be happy because I jumped 8 feet. No, I’m coming out here to win. I have yet to lose this season.”
With the title already in hand Sunday after defeating Iowa State’s Cameron Ostrowski, Kynard made three unsuccessful attempts at 7-5 — twice clipping the bar with his heel — despite support from onlookers who clapped in rhythm at Kynard’s urging.
“I had to get them involved in the end,” said Kynard, who’s career-best is 7-7. “But a win is a win and I won fairly easily, so I’m satisfied.
“I’m training to progress past this meet, so it’s not the end of the world for me. It’s all relative.”
But it’s the rest of the world Kynard is hoping to face if he can qualify next month for the London Games when he travels to Eugene, Ore., for the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Sunday marked just the third Outdoor competition for Kynard this spring and seventh overall this year, including his four Indoor meets this winter.
For Kynard — the defending NCAA Outdoor champion — Sunday was as much about winning another Big 12 title as it was about getting back into competition mode for the most important stretch of his young career.
Considering that, K-State track and field coach Cliff Rovelto said he was nervous about Kynard jumping in front of the home crowd Sunday, so much so that he addressed the topic with his prized athlete this past week.
“I had a conversation with him about trying to stay under control and manage his emotions well,” he said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have done that, because I think he did it too well. The rhythm of his approach was great — he just wasn’t putting the kind of force in the ground on takeoff that he normally does.”
But leading up to the Big 12 championships, Kynard had been putting up huge numbers during practice, showing Rovelto that he’s ready to take his body to another height.
“I’ll just tell you — he jumped 7-7 in practice a few days ago and 7-6 before that,” Rovelto said. “He’s physically at a very high level, jumping as well as he’s ever jumped.”
Perhaps that’s another reason Kynard was so calm, cool and collected Sunday.
“Everybody is putting up these huge marks and everybody is jumping really high, and I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what I’m capable of doing,” Kynard said.
“I took a lot of good things out of this meet and I did a lot of good things, also. All that’s left to do is jump high when I have to jump high.”