DES MOINES, Iowa — After arguably the greatest career in Kansas State track and field history, high jumper Erik Kynard made his professional debut Sunday and added USA Track and Field Champion to his long list of accomplishments.
Kynard, who recently signed with Nike, cleared 2.28 meters (7-5.75) on his first attempt to ensure the victory over former Nebraska Cornhusker Dusty Jonas and win his first USATF title. Both Kynard and Jonas missed their attempts at 2.31 meters (7-7.00), but Kynard said he is happy with the win and to on Team USA and headed to the IAAF World Championships later this summer in Moscow.
“Today, I was just a little close (on my take-off), and 2.31 is a bar that I make all the time,” Kynard said. “I was a little disappointed, but a win is a win. I’m just looking to continue training well, stay healthy and go to Moscow.
“In this situation, the only height I want to jump is first place, and that’s what I did. You want to go out and jump first place and worry about breaking records and things of that nature after.”
Kynard was flying over the earlier bars in the competition by wide margins as he was dominating early on. He cleared four bars, all on first attempts, and it was Jonas’ first miss of the competition at 2.28 that moved Kynard into the lead and eventually secured the victory.
The win for Kynard marks the first time since Nathan Leeper in 2002, that a former Wildcat has won a men’s high jump title at the USA Championships. Leeper was a back-to-back champion in 2001 and 2002 under coach Cliff Rovelto.
Rovelto said Kynard did what was necessary to win and most importantly qualify for the World Championships.
“Honestly, all that matters in this meet is to make the team,” Rovelto said Sunday. “Winning nationals is always good, regardless of height because you are competing against great athletes. It certainly is a good start to the next chapter of his career.”
Rovelto has seen a number of jumpers have great success in the next chapter of their careers, as Kynard’s victory makes it four straight wins for athletes coached by Rovelto at the USA Championships. It also makes 10 of the last 13 champions, products of Rovelto’s coaching.
Defending champion Jamie Nieto was in action and still battling an injury as he was forced to withdraw from the competition after clearing the first bar at 2.15 meters (7-00.50). Defending world champion Jesse Williams finished in a tie for ninth, as he also has been battling injuries this season. Williams will be at the IAAF World Championships as he is the 2011 defending champion and will receive a wild card to the event in August.
“I’ve been doing a lot of things right,” Kynard said. “I have a great coach in Cliff Rovelto. Myself and Jesse Williams, we have a great coach overall and he has a great system.
“His approach to the event is unparalleled. He always gives us a lot of credit, but he is a very patient and very systematic guy. Everything he has done has proven to work through time. He just knows what he’s doing. That’s just the bottom line.”
Leading up to the World Championships in August, Kynard will hit the professional circuit and compete at a number of Diamond League meets in preparation for his next competition in a Team USA uniform.
When asked if he will wear his now famous Stars and Stripes socks, Kynard chuckled with the media and said that hasn’t been decided yet.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I gotta talk to the Swoosh. I don’t know how that will go. I’m a company man now.”