MANHATTAN — Of all the competitions that took place at the outdoor Big 12 Track and Field championships this weekend, high jump was clearly the main event.
More than 3,000 fans packed R.V. Christian Complex on Sunday to watch Kansas State junior high jumper Erik Kynard take flight.
Those same fans clapped in unison during Kynard’s approach and roared when he successfully leaped 7 feet, 3 inches to win a Big 12 title.
“It was pretty great. I didn’t expect the stands to be this packed,” Kynard said. “I’ve never really competed here, hardly ever, just once. So it was fun. It was a great meet.”
Fans were eager to see Kynard mainly because of his past accomplishments, which include a national championship and, now, three Big 12 championships.
But many had come, in some part, becauseof an Internet video recently released by K-State’s athletic department that shows Kynard jumping over 6-foot-11 K-State basketball player Jordan Henriquez.
After securing victory, Kynard took aim at a personal record of 7 feet, 7.75 inches and played to the crowd along the way — a fun experience until Kynard failed to clear 7-5.
If Kynard is to reach his goal of qualifying for the Olympics this summer, he will need to clear that height when it counts. Sunday, his body cleared the bar but the heel of his foot hit on all three of his attempts.
He was hoping for more, but refused to hang his head.
“Anytime I’m in a competition the first goal is to win,” Kynard said. “I’m not coming out here saying, ‘I want to jump 8 feet and come in second, but be happy because I jumped eight feet.’ No, I’m coming out here to win. I’m yet to lose this season, and that’s something to continue.”
K-State coach Cliff Rovelto was also pleased with Kynard’s effort. It was only his third outdoor event of the season, and he has never competed in front of a friendly large crowd before.
“The thing I was really concerned about with this meet being at home with all the buildup that there has been, I thought he might be too amped,” Rovelto said. “So I had a conversation with him, which I don’t normally do, about trying to stay under control and manage his emotions well. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that, because he did it too well.
“I think his rhythm and his approach was great, but he didn’t put the kind of force in the ground that he normally does. It’s just that simple. Having said all that, a win is a win … Still pretty good stuff.”
Kynard will now try for more in the next few months, which will be busy. Up next comes a trip to regionals and then it’s back to the national championship meet. After that comes the Olympic Trials.
All three meets will be important, with a major emphasis on the last one. “It’s going to be a lot of lifting, a lot of running and a lot of sweating,” Kynard said. “I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of what I’m capable of.”
Kansas was in contention for the women’s team championship until the end, but scored 129.5 points and finished second to Texas with 139 points.
On the men’s side, Texas A&M won with 150 points. Texas finished second with 130.
Big finish — Diamond Dixon will remember Sunday for a long time.
The Kansas sophomore not only won the 400-meter dash with a blistering time of 51.09 seconds, she helped the Jayhawks win the 4x400-meter relay with a time of 3 minutes, 28.10 seconds with a fast closing lap. It was the first time a team from outside of Texas had ever won the event at the Big 12 championships.
“That’s amazing,” Dixon said. “Other teams sometimes just think we can’t do it, but we’ve been working hard. Sometimes all you’ve got to do is believe in yourself and relax. That’s what we did and you see what happened.”
Before she took the baton for the final lap, she knew a lot of people were going to be watching.
“I was amped,” she said. “One of the Texas girls said, ‘OK, Diamond, let’s give them a show.’ So I tried my best to give them a show and got off to a good start and finished strong.”
Pole vault — Kansas State sophomore Kyle Wait won the men’s pole vault championship with a jump of 17 feet, 5 inches. It was a big achievement for him, considering he had never jumped that high before.
“Kyle Wait did a great job,” Rovelto said. “Anytime you (set a personal record) and you win it’s big. That’s a big deal but I’m not at all surprised, because he is physically, in terms of strength and in terms of speed, he is jumping as well as guys that are jumping a foot higher than him. I think he’s that good.”
Worth noting — Kansas freshman Michael Stigler pulled off an unexpected victory in the 400-meter hurdles by posting a time of 49.45 seconds. He beat out Texas Tech’s Jamele Mason by .15 seconds … Kansas junior Mason Finley finished second in the discus throw with a toss of 197 feet, 1 inch. Finley narrowly missed out on first, with Luke Bryant of Oklahoma throwing 202 feet, 1 inch.