Former Kansas State high jumper Erik Kynard compares himself to a volcano.
That’s an unusual assessment for any athlete to make about himself, but he can explain his logic.
When the time is right, Kynard says, he is capable of anything, like an erupting volcano. That is what happened four years ago when he took silver at the London Olympics, an achievement that sparked a successful professional career and earned him an endorsement deal with Nike.
But, much like a volcano, he also goes dormant. He thinks dormancy is a good word to describe much of the past four years. Kynard still lives in Manhattan, still trains with K-State track and field coach Cliff Rovelto, still buys his own groceries and still watches movies to pass time.
“I have two speeds: zero and 100,” Kynard said. “A volcano is a great force, even when it is dormant. I have had to go dormant at times to kind of learn from the process and take things day by day instead of erupting all the time.”
“I train, I eat and I sleep,” Kynard added. “That’s all I really do.”
He’s ready for another eruption, first at the U.S. track and field trials, which start Friday in Eugene, Ore., and later at the Rio Olympics in August.
This time, he is on a mission for gold.
“Statistically, I have improved a great deal,” Kynard said. “I think I have improved more mentally, learning how to train and pace myself in preparation and in life, than I have athletically. I think everything is coming together and will come together for me this year.”
Kynard has slowly built toward this moment. Once the luster faded from his silver medal and the following publicity tour, which included an appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” he got back to work.
His goal was to become the top high jumper in the world. It still is.
Right now, he has to settle for the best jumper in America. Though he is currently the nation’s top-ranked high jumper, he ranks fourth internationally.
That isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness, though. Kynard has improved as a jumper since his college days. His personal best jump is up to 7 feet, 8 inches and he has reached the finals of two world championships.
In head-to-head competitions, he has held his own.
“His level of consistency is outstanding,” Rovelto said of Kynard. “When you go back and look through history, up until the past three years if you average (7 feet, 6 inches) you have a pretty good chance to be ranked No. 1 in the world. Before 2013, that is pretty much how it always was.
“It’s only been the last three years or so you have had three, four, five guys jumping at the level they have been jumping. This is a high-water mark for high jumping.”
Kynard wants to rise to the top of it.
If he makes it to Brazil and jumps well there, he expects to qualify for the finals and be in contention for a medal. Beyond that, he says he has no expectations for the Olympics. He only cares about his performance, not his competitors.
Still, those close to Kynard think he can win on the world’s biggest stage.
Just look at his sponsor, they say. Though Kynard is technically sponsored by Nike, he is one of the few track and field athletes in the world paid to wear Michael Jordan’s Jumpman logo.
“It’s not something you audition for,” Kynard said. “You either have it or you don’t, in their eyes. When you have it, they want you and when you don’t, they don’t. I guess I have it. It’s been great.”
Companies also pay Kynard to travel across the country and speak at events. Four years after winning silver, people continue to respect the achievement.
Kynard is proud of his high-jump career, but he is ready for more. He has been dormant for too long. After the Olympics, he plans to leave Manhattan and train in a bigger city.
“I need to learn how to be Erik Kynard the man,” Kynard said. “I’m 25 years old. The ceiling is what it is and I am there, as far as the demographic and geographic location go here. I need to branch out and learn more about me and my life. Incidentally, I think that will let me elevate higher and realize a higher pinnacle of success.”
The journey is about to begin. Time for Kynard to erupt.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett