Competing for the first time since winning a silver medal in the London Olympics, Erik Kynard faced just one other competitor in Ahearn Field House on Saturday afternoon for the Wildcat Invitational.
Oklahoma State’s Taylor Buck was done jumping before Kynard even began.
Kynard cleared 2.29 meters on his third attempt before shutting it down and received a standing ovation from the K-State fans in attendance.
“I’m glad about the turnout because regardless of whether it’s 5,000 people or five people in the stands, my job is to jump,” said Kynard, who got the crowd involved with a slow clap before each jump. “It’s a little easier if somebody is here to clap.”
Kynard’s final jump set a new meet record, set a collegiate dual meet record and currently stands as the highest jump this season in the NCAA. Nerves weren’t an issue, Kynard said, despite not competing since August and only jumping three times since then with practices included.
“I try not to get too excited. If you get too excited, you get emotional and you mess up. That’s what happened the first two times,” Kynard said. “It’s second-nature so it’s nothing that I have to go out here and try to reinvent the wheel.“
The fame and publicity that came Kynard’s direction following the Olympics, where he won a silver medal with a jump of 2.33 meters, haven’t affected his competitive desire.
“I won’t let victory defeat me. Victory can defeat athletes. You achieve great things, especially at an early age, and your head begins to grow,” Kynard said. “You go into competitions expecting everyone else to move out of the way. I don’t expect the Red Seas to part for me, and I don’t expect anyone to bow down.”
Kynard said stress is an increased part of his life since the Olympics, but that it comes with the territory.
“I couldn’t even warm up without people stopping me. I try to respond to fans. My privacy is about the only thing I need back out of the whole ordeal,” Kynard said. “To whom much is given, much is required."
Kynard admitted that the meet is even more meaningful because of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, along with the possibility that it would be his last time competing in Manhattan.
“[Martin Luther King Jr.] spoke out in front of Ahearn and he got an applause, and here I am in here getting an applause in Ahearn, so that’s pretty surreal within itself,” Kynard said, referring to King’s visit to K-State less than three months before his assassination. “It was interesting coming, because I was like, ‘How serious can I try to make this?’"
However, Kynard said he didn’t let the significance of the competition go to his head.
"There’s only one other guy and the reality of the situation is he’ll probably be out before I start, which he was," he said. "So I have to come in and stay focused a little bit and not try to treat it as practice too much. The fans helped out.”
Next up for the senior is the Bill Bergan Invitational in Ames, Iowa, on Jan. 24-26.
“I need to jump at 2.29 again and not miss twice and then jump higher than 2.29,” Kynard said.
Other highlights from K-State’s sweep of the Wildcat Invitational included junior Carlos Rodriguez, junior Kyle Wait and junior Jharyl Bowry, who made his first K-State appearance at the meet.
Rodriguez ran away from the competition in the 200-meter race with a time of 21.14 seconds. The time, which Rodriguez set on a flat track rather than a banked track, sits at third in school history and broke the meet record as well.
Wait cleared 5.40 meters on pole vault to move himself into second place in K-State history and also set a meet record.
Bowry, a recent junior college transfer, won the men’s long jump with a leap of 7.53 meters, which currently ranks No. 1 in the Big 12 Conference this season and No. 9 in the NCAA.