Jul. 24—The Games will go on, and so will Erik Kynard.
As the Olympics plow ahead through a shroud of uncertainty and unease, Kynard could be forgiven if he was bitter he isn't in Tokyo.
What might have been? We'll never know.
In the summer of 2018, the Toledo-made high-jumping superstar ruptured his Achilles tendon, an injury traditionally known as the kiss of death for any athlete, let alone a human spacecraft who makes his living by exploding into the air. He then battled near all the way back, winning an indoor national championship in his return to competition in February 2020, only for the pandemic to sideswipe the next year of events.
Kynard gave the Olympics another go this year, but missed the cut at the U.S. Trials in Oregon. His best jump was 7 feet, 5 1/4 inches — just shy of the Olympic standard and 3 1/4 inches short of his gold-medal-winning leap in 2012.
"Extremely difficult to swallow," he said.
Yet Kynard does not traffic in hypotheticals.
The 30-year-old prefers to appreciate what is — "It's still been a great ride," he said — and what yet can be, including on what he called his farewell tour as an athlete.
Kynard was entirely at peace when I caught up with him days before the Olympics, which, for the record, he'll be watching, too.
"I don't get bitter," he said by phone from his home in Marietta, Ga. "You saw LeBron James sitting courtside at Game 5 of the NBA Finals. It's not like I'm not going to watch track and field ever again because I'm not there. There are people I care about supporting and watching."
Now, will it be weird? Sure.
As if on foreign ground in his home country, this will be the first time Kynard isn't at the Olympics since 2008, the summer after his junior year at Rogers High School.
Everything feels a little strange, including stories like this.
All his life, if the hometown newspaper called, it was to talk about his latest towering feat.
We've celebrated Kynard since his prep days, when he won back-to-back Division I state titles, and watched him come of age as our hometown Olympic hero. He went on to become a national champion at Kansas State and, of course, a national star at the 2012 Games in London.
There, wearing his star-spangled tube socks, he burst into the air higher than all but a single Russian drug cheat, earning a silver medal that was later upgraded to gold. Afterward, he made the media rounds — from Good Morning America to Late Night with David Letterman — and came back to Toledo for a parade in his honor, then returned to the Olympics in 2016.
Point is, he's had an incredible career, and now here I was asking him about the other side of all that ecstasy.
"This is weird, right?" he said, laughing.
Turns out, though, the other side isn't without dividends, agonizing as they may be.
The truth is Kynard's flirtation with a third trip to the Olympics was just as impressive as his first two.
Maybe even more so, if you consider the words of British philosopher James Allen that Kynard shared on Instagram last week: "In all human affairs there are efforts, and there are results, and the strength of the effort is the measure of the result."
In that case, damned if this wasn't a fulfilling result.
Because the strength of the effort would have impressed no less than Atlas.
When Kynard snapped his Achilles tendon at the U.S. outdoor track and field championships in 2018, he knew the odds. A tear of the fibrous band that connects the calf muscle to the heel bone is the most feared injury in sports.
"Historically," Kynard said, "it's not one that people generally come back."
Yet, he pledged to give it a shot, pouring himself first into the rehab, then the just-as-solitary pursuit of recapturing his world-class form.
"A very lonely, intimate process," Kynard said. "You really put your body and mind through torture in order to get better. It's not basketball where you've got your guys and you go get better together. You've got to wake up and stand out in front of the car and let it hit you. Then you wake up the next day and do it again."
Remarkably, he didn't just work his way back into the mix of the top jumpers in the country. He returned to the top of the pack, capturing his 10th national title at the indoor championships, just before the pandemic slammed the brakes on planetary life.
Whether the Olympics being pushed back helped give him more time to recover or hurt his momentum, Kynard doesn't give it any thought. He was simply grateful for the chance to compete, having done everything possible to attempt to clear the bar of a lifetime.
"Obviously, it's not the result I wanted, but I proved to myself that I am the man I always thought I was," Kynard said. "The greatest lesson I learned is that I can succeed through whatever the adversity is. Even now that I'm not going to the Olympics, I have the knowledge that I'm not a victim of circumstances and never have been. I know that, hey, it's OK you're not in Tokyo because high jumping is not going to be your greatest work in life.
"I'm 30 years old. I may someday be the father of a child who ends up the greatest golfer or the greatest soccer player. This is not my Mona Lisa or my Sistine Chapel. I'll be able to look back on this like, man, I remember that year I didn't make the team in Tokyo. I'll remember I faced all this adversity and yet you still came in fourth. That's terrible! But it's incredible."
As for what's next, long term, he intends to pursue a career in business — adding an MBA to his undergraduate degree — or coaching, maybe both.
Near term, he's confident he has a few more big jumps in him yet, including next summer at the world championships in Oregon.
"If I'm going to have a farewell tour," Kynard said, "I'd like to end my career in the United States."
Any chance he could be talked into one more Olympic cycle?
"It is only three years," Kynard said, "which people keep reminding me."