Photos by Peter Draugalis of Draugalis Photography
Seven feet, 7-1, 7-2, the numbers don't really matter to high jumper Erik Kynard.
When the competition begins, there's only one thing that's on the mind of the senior from Rogers (Ohio) High School.
"I just jump as high as my competition takes me," Kynard said. "I don't set goals on how high. My goal is just to win."
Ever since he was a freshman clearing 6-6, that's pretty much been the case for the country's top prep athlete in the vertical leap - winning meets and soaring to new and extraordinary heights.
A few weeks into the outdoor track season, Kynard followed up his second straight victory at the Nike Indoor Nationals (NIN) with a personal best of 7-4 1/2. The talented Ohio leaper achieved that mark - No. 4 on the U.S. all-time list - on March 28 at the Huron Relays (Eastern Michigan University).
"I just had a good day out there," Kynard said.
The recent performance by the 6-foot-5 Kynard has further demonstrated his amazing consistency over the last few years. In an event that he says comes naturally to him, the Kansas State-recruit has cleared seven feet nearly 20 times in his high school career.
After a strong frosh campaign at Roy C. Start High, Kynard transferred to Rogers the next year and attained the seven-foot barrier for the first time at an all-comers meet at Ohio Northern University. He broke the school record of 6-10, held by his current coach Eric Browning.
"When I was at Start, I didn't really have the coaching I needed. That was one of the reasons I transferred to Rogers," said Kynard, about the Toledo schools. "I wasn't really shocked that I did it. I told my coach I'm going to break his record. I did it in the first meet."
Kynard's leaping ability was first noticed during junior high where he had a best of 5-10 as an eighth-grader. He already had the height, a tall six feet by age 14, he just needed a little prodding.
"I had a friend who bet I couldn't do it," Kynard said. "The first time I actually jumped it was over bungee cords. (Junior high) is when I was told I was going to be a high jumper."
Kynard, who qualified for the NIN as a sophomore but had to withdraw because of an injury, has won the last two Nike meets with heights of 7-1/4 and 7-3, respectively. In this year's meet, he had to overcome a stiff challenge from eventual second- and third-place finishers Harrison Steed (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) and Jonathan Hill (Walkersville, Md.), who each cleared 6-11.
Kynard, who turned 18 on Feb. 3, believes his mental approach to the high jump was enhanced over the summer when he competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials. The youngest competitor in the field, he cleared the opening height of 7-1/2.
Since the Trials, Kynard generally starts with an opening height of 6-9 or 6-10 in his meets.
"It was fun (at the Trials)," he said. "It wasn't a lot of pressure, but all eyes were on me being the youngest competitor. It took me three attempts to clear seven feet. After that, the mental aspect of my ability improved. I wasn't nervous anymore to compete in meets."
Other noteworthy meets for Kynard during the summer months was a runner-up finish (7-1/4) to fellow Ohio jumper and then-senior Ryan Fleck, of Napoleon High, at the USATF Junior Nationals Championships and, despite a hamstring injury, had a seven-foot effort overseas when he competed in IAAF World Junior Championships in Poland.
The versatile Kynard, who is the two-time defending outdoor state champion in the high jump, also has a best distance of 23-5 3/4 for the long jump and has clocked a time of 14.84 for the 110-meter hurdles.
With the spring season underway, the Rogers standout will continue to work on his craft and perhaps soar to even higher heights. The present national record for the high jump outdoors is 7-7 by Jamaican Andra Manson (Brenham, Texas) in 2002.
The focus will then shift to college at Kansas State. Another attempt at making the Olympic team in three years is not even a thought right now.
"That's definitely a long term goal," he said. "My short term goal is just to keep winning."