Erik Kynard calls himself the “old young dude.” He can’t believe that at 28, he’s considered one of the veterans of his sport: high jumping. But as he looks to make his third Olympic Games, he appreciates the responsibility that comes with being a veteran.
Despite Kynard's focus on Tokyo 2020, however, in some ways he is still caught up in the past. At the 2012 London games, Kynard won silver in the high jump behind Russia’s Ivan Ukhov. But in February, 12 Russian athletes were found guilty through an investigation into systemic doping. Ukhov was among those athletes and will be likely be stripped of his Olympic gold from 2012 in the high jump. Kynard would be upgraded to gold as a result.
As the clock begins to tick down to the next Olympics, Kynard (who finished sixth in Rio in 2016) caught up with Sports Illustrated to talk about 2012, his injury and the athlete he most admires.
(Editor's Note: The following interview was lightly edited and condensed).
Charlotte Carroll: What was going through your head when you found out about Ukhov being found guilty of doping?
Erik Kynard: Honestly, it was just a sigh of relief. It wasn't a sigh of relief; it was just kind of like a weight off of my shoulder in a sense. It’s one of those things, the thing that you've been working for your entire life, the person you've been working to become, you find out you [are] already him. So, a lot of the pressure was let off and as I'm training and rehabbing and preparing for Tokyo, it's like oh, 'So now you're not trying to do something you've never done because you've done this before.’ So, it's not as difficult as you think now. It has its own challenges, for sure, as far as perspective is concerned but everything evened out. It balanced out for me. I made a deposit eight years ago, but I wasn't able to withdraw it until now. It was a huge relief, and it was another shot at motivation. Essentially, it's just something to keep you going cause it's like, ‘Oh you still got robbed.’ But you got robbed of a moment in time, but your accomplishments and my accomplishments aren't limited to those moments in time.’ A lot of times, with athletics and the Olympics, everybody supports the result and not the process. You know what I mean? In this instance, the result was wrong, and so I have to postdate the accomplishment in a sense. Honestly and truly, if the time comes, when the time comes, when the medal comes, I won't look at it. I have no interest in seeing a medal. No interest.
CC: You won't look at the medal?
EK: Not at all. Not at all. I'll probably put it in an envelope and put it like in an art museum where I’m from or donate it for the year to a public school system or something like that because you have to live out of your imagination not your history, you know what I mean? So, for me, I have no interest in celebrating a moment in time that's passed.
CC: Does it mean a little less then since it's coming years later?
EK: Oh yeah because nobody cares.
CC: But you care?
EK: I mean sometimes, a little bit. I care that I accomplished it. It means a lot obviously for my family, my mother, my coach and even me a little bit. But it doesn't mean anything right now. It can't because I have to stay focused on what has to come first.
CC: Going back to 2012, did you have suspicions about Ukhov?
EK: You have suspicions, especially in that event. I'm not the judge, jury or executioner as far as that's concerned. I know I participate in clean sport and I have a clean passport and I train in 100 percent organic, no artificial preservatives, you know what I mean? But as far as other people's situation or circumstances involving their decision making, I can't speak on that. I can only work to be the best Erik Kynard that America has ever seen or the best high jumper America and the world has ever seen. Because essentially nobody else knocks the bar down for me. It is disappointing but it's not my focus. We focused on Tokyo. London was a long time ago.
CC: Getting this medal back in 2020, if you do, what would that say for the status of the sport in America?
EK: I mean Michael Jordan likes it. I'm a Jordan athlete so I think the future of the sport and the foundation of the sport is still solid. We just have to do renovations. … It's just a matter of people supporting not only Olympic moments and movements but just the foundations as a whole.
CC: Speaking of Jordan, you posted a picture of him to your Instagram recently. Was that the first time you met him?
EK: I've been with the Jordan brand for a while, so it's not my first time meeting him. It's one of those things, when you're with a person and you talk to a person and you realize the carbon dioxide you exhale, he's inhaling as oxygen, it's cool, you develop a relationship. Everything is not a picture thing. In that instance, honestly, it was like, ‘Hey we've never taken a picture together,’ and he doesn't even really take pictures. The fact that he took a picture with me is, OK cool.
CC: Do you have a celebrity athlete you admire most?
EK: For sure, you look up to people's accomplishments, mentalities and perspectives in different sports, a multitude of sports as far as admiration is concerned. Right now, I really like what LeBron James is doing both on and off the court, so it's hard to ignore that, but you have to acknowledge your contemporaries and predecessors and all those things. So, I do. Greatness isn't limited to activities. It translates. You realize, I realize, ‘I'm not just good at high jumping, oh you're great at other stuff too.’ You just spend most of your time doing this thing.
CC: What would you say you're great at outside of high jumping?
EK: I think I'm pretty intelligent. I'm starting to figure that out. I graduated from college a while ago, 2013. I got a degree in business. I didn't know I was as sharp as I am though. It's always good to realize you got those brains and the brawn.
CC: You’re recovering from a ruptured Achilles you suffered last June. How has that recovery been going as you look to go to Tokyo?
EK: It's difficult. If I was to say it was easy, I would be lying. It's not impossible. I think I'm pretty tough, and I think I'll ready to go when I need to be ready to go. Right now, I’m just in a state of preparation constantly.