This game of chess, played out in front of a packed Hayward Field, would come down to a simple move by Indiana’s Derek Drouin in the NCAA high jump championship.
"He took my king," Kansas State’s Erik Kynard said. "Checkmate. It’s frustrating because of how much I hate to lose and how much I hate finishing second."
Drouin became the NCAA’s first five-time champion in the high jump — three indoor titles and two outdoor titles — when he cleared 7 feet, 8 inches and Kynard missed on all three attempts at the height.
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Kynard was trying for his third straight outdoor title. Both Drouin and Kynard earned the silver medal at last summer’s London Olympics
"I don’t really think about the titles, but it was a little surreal when I heard them announce it," Drouin said. "Competing against somebody like Erik, you always have to be at your very best."
Kynard cleared his first attempt at 7-7 and Drouin missed in his first attempt at the height, then elected to pass and go up to 7-8.
"They’re both such great jumpers and great athletes," K-State track and field coach Cliff Rovelto said. "I knew that it was going to come down to some misses and some nerves in the end.
Drouin missed his first attempt at 7-8, then and nailed the next — a miss would’ve given Kynard the title.
"I knew I was going to have to clear the next height no matter what, so I figured there was no need to wear out my legs," Drouin said. "Happens all the time in high jump. Just a strategy we all use."
Kynard, with the NCAA title on the line, missed in his final attempt with his upper back striking the bar as he tried to clear.
"I had been struggling with the up and back (on the jump) all day," Kynard said. "That’s not how I wanted to end my career at K-State but I have to start getting ready for the (U.S.) championships in Des Moines now.
"It was an honor to jump in the purple and the support system I had in place while I was at K-State was amazing. I can’t thank the fans and the people there enough."
Kynard defeated Drouin at Hayward Field last week in the Prefontaine Classic.
"I beat him last week, he beat me this week," Kynard said. "Who knows what would happen if we jump again in a few months we just keep going at each other whenever we compete."
Now, like any college graduate, Kynard must find a job. It’s something he was already thinking about an hour after Friday’s event ended.
"I’m a professional now, so I need to see what’s going on with these shoe companies and what we can work out," Kynard said. "I need to go to work."
Part of that work, with an eye on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, will include Kynard staying in Manhattan and continuing to train with Rovelto.
"Manhattan is really where I feel comfortable and where things have worked the best for me," Kynard said. "And I have one of the best high jump coaches in the world so I figure if it’s not broke why try to fix it?"