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But top-ranked high jumper doesn't want to peak before Rio

COURTESY; USA TRACK AND FIELD - High jump king Erik Kynard says he gets a moment of peace when hes at the top of his game above the bar.When he’s floating through the air nearly eight feet above the ground, Erik Kynard doesn’t feel like Superman or a creature of flight.

It’s more like a sliver of meditation.

“It’s a place for a moment of peace,” says Kynard, the favorite to claim the high jump title in this weekend’s U.S. Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Oregon Convention Center. “You feel free. You’re not up there for very long — maybe a tenth of a second. But it’s a peaceful and graceful time.”

While the spiritual aspect is a welcome diversion, it’s the thrill of competition that draws Kynard to his craft.

“I do track because I enjoy the competitive nature of the event, and the self-accomplishment involved,” says Kynard, 25, the reigning U.S. outdoor champion and 2012 Olympic silver medalist. “You’re out there to better yourself, to create something you’ve never created, but you’re also trying to beat everyone else. It’s a very competitive and trying event.”

Over the past four years, Kynard has done it better than anyone in the country. A two-time NCAA outdoor champion (2012 and ’13) and 2014 NCAA outdoor runner-up at Kansas State, Kynard is a two-time national outdoor champion (2013 and ’15) and the 2014 U.S. indoor king. He is ranked No. 1 in the United States and No. 6 in the world.

A year ago in Eugene, Kynard matched his personal record of 7-9 1/4 while winning his second U.S. outdoor title.

“Hayward Field is one of the best places you could ever hope to compete,” says Kynard, who lives in Manhattan, Kansas. “I’ve been competing there since I was 17 (in the 2008 Olympic trials). I look forward to going back there again in June for the Olympic trials.”

Kynard is one of four able-bodied U.S. athletes representing Nike’s Jordan Brand, joining high jumper Brigetta Barrett, former UO sprinter Mandy White, and hurdler Kori Carter. His only previous visits to Portland have been for Jordan Brand business. He is looking forward to a stay in the city that he hopes will be extended through the World Indoor Championships the following week.

“It’ll be cool,” Kynard says. “It’s going to be great to have both meets at the same site.”

Kynard says he enjoys jumping indoors.

“There’s not a huge difference in jumping outdoors, if you’re not dealing with (inclement) weather,” says Kynard, who has a PR of 7-7 3/4 indoors. “Indoors is more intimate. Everything is so close. There is more engagement with fans. Competitors get riled up in close quarters.

“We may be jumping with long jumpers and pole vaulters doing their thing 30 or 40 feet away, but I like that. Most of us feed off the performance of other athletes.”

Kynard grew up in Toledo, Ohio. His father is a pipefitter, his mother chief financial officer at a credit union. Their blended family has 10 siblings.

“I’m my mother’s oldest and my father’s second oldest,” Erik says. “Competition is something I’m used to.”

The 6-4 Kynard was the same height as a high school freshman when he scaled 7-0 1/2 at age 15. He chose to attend Kansas State to work with coach Cliff Rovelto, a noted multi-event and jumps coach who has had, among others, 2003 national champion Jamie Nieto, 2004 Olympic silver medalist Matt Hemingway, and 2011 world champion Jesse Williams under his high jump tutelage. Kynard continues to train with Rovelto today.

“Cliff’s résumé speaks for itself,” Kynard says. “I don’t think there’s been a more successful coach in relation to the high jump. He’s very knowledgeable and a pleasure to work with.”

Kynard has jumped only once during the indoor season, winning the Millrose Games in New York City at 7-6 1/2.

“I’ve scaled back my indoor competition from years past,” he says. “I felt like I peaked too early the last couple of years. Everything this year will be timed to lead up to the (Rio de Janeiro) Olympic Games in August.”

For now, Kynard isn’t letting himself think too much about the Olympics.

“Looking back at this time in 2012, I was a junior in college and our outdoor season hadn’t even started yet,” he says. “It’s a long season. The Olympics is a huge goal and a long-term goal. But in order for me to be my best in Rio, I have to be my best this Monday, at my best this Tuesday, and then again the next day. I can’t look too far ahead.”

Even so, Kynard says he is excited about competing at the U.S. Indoors.

“I want to jump as high as it takes for me to win,” he says. “That’s priority No. 1.”

The American record is 7-10 1/2 — by Hollis Conway indoors in 1991 and by Charles Austin outdoors in 1996. Kynard doesn’t even want to think about that.

“I’ve jumped at it (and failed) time and time again,” he says. “I’ve given it too much attention and focus. I think that’s why it’s eluded me over the years.

“I think I’ll get it, but it’s going to be something that comes naturally. It’s not something I need to focus on and let it drive me crazy like I have in the past.”

Thanks to endorsement contracts with Nike and USG Corp. — the latter an official U.S. Olympic sponsor — Kynard’s bills are paid for.

“I’m in the business of Erik Kynard in track and field, thankfully,” says Kynard, who owns a business degree from Kansas State. “My focus can completely be on my training. I plan on jumping for another six or seven years. Then I’ll decide what to do with the rest of my life.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers

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