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Celebrating High Jump U

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Aug 7, 2012; London, United Kingdom; Erik Kynard (USA) celebrates with an American flag after placing second in the men's high jump final during the 2012 London Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 7, 2012; London, United Kingdom; Erik Kynard (USA) celebrates with an American flag after placing second in the men's high jump final during the 2012 London Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I would hope by now all of you are aware that K-State's Erik Kynard won the silver medal in London by jumping 2.33 meters, or as some astute K-State fans pointed out, 1.1 JOs. Perhaps you even managed to catch it live or see the 2 to 3 minutes of coverage NBC managed to slip in Tuesday night between personal stories, diving and gymnastics.*

While Kynard has both metaphorically and literally raised the bar higher than any Wildcat before him, he's less unique in all of his success than he would be just about anywhere else. His two national championships (with two more possible next year) actually aren't the best among K-State high jumpers and though his personal best is KSU record, it's not the highest ever jumped by a Wildcat. But we'll get to that later.

Though the 'Cats did actually have an excellent high jumper during Furnace's childhood the early 1930s, most of the success has come since Coach Cliff Rovelto took over 20 years ago. Consider this: Since 2003, K-State has had a men's high jumper in the top 6 at the NCAA National Outdoor Track/Field championships every single year.

Only Kynard in 2010 was not top 5, and 4 times during that 10-year span a Wildcat took home the championship.. That's incredible dominance in a sport where only the best of the best reach that level, and plenty of variables can even keep the elite from a top finish on a bad day.

In honor of Mr. Kynard and his spectacular socks, let's take a look back at all the great male Wildcat jumpers. Note: There have some excellent female jumpers as well (notably: Kaylene Wagner, the awesomely named Morgan High, Wanita Dykstra, Gwen Wentland, Connie Teaberry, and Rita Graves, but I didn't want this post to get too long. Please forgive me, ladies, if any of you read this.)

*It would be very easy for me to write a 1,000-word rant about how much NBC's coverage has sucked this Olympics, but I feel like that would be just piling on at this point. Suffice it to say all of their tape delaying, refusal to show soccer/basketball on real channels, and continued insistence on showing the courageous personal story of every single athlete has made me want to drown an entire synchronized swimming team just to release all of the anger I'm feeling toward the Peacock.

Milton Ehrlich - 2nd at 1930 and 1931 outdoor championships

Ehrlich was a bit of an anomaly, coming as he did well before Cliff Rovelto was even born, but he was the first great Wildcat high jumper. His school record of 1.9 meters would probably take a long time to get to today, though his yearbook entry hilariously claims he jumped "6 feet, 356 inches, which now stands as a college record." I would think so.

Virgil Severns - 3rd at the 1951 outdoor championships

Severns was likely the first Wildcat to clear 2 meters, though he jumped only 1.97 when he took third at the NCAA championships. He even won a gold medal at the inaugural Pan American games in 1951.

Ray McGill - 5th at the 1969 outdoor championships

McGill came to K-State from California because he happened to know Wildcat track/field coach DeLoss Dodds, and yes, that is the same DeLoss Dodds who is now the athletic director at Texas. McGill was the first KSU jumper to clear 7 feet and won four Big Eight individual titles.

Rick Slifer - 5th at the 1973 outdoor championships

I couldn't find much about Slifer, who also cleared 7 feet but did not win a Big Eight championship.

Kenny Harrison - 1st at the 1986 indoor championships

High jump wasn't even the best event for Harrison, K-State's only pre-Rovelto national champion. His long list of accomplishments includes an NCAA national championship in '86 and a world championship in '91 in the triple jump, as well as a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics with a triple jump that still stands as the longest jump ever (18.09) with a negative wind reading. He still holds KSU records in the outdoor/indoor long jump and outdoor triple jump.

Percell Gaskins - 1st at the 1993 indoor championships

Rovelto called Gaskins "the best athlete I've ever seen. The best. Period." That's high praise, indeed, and Bill Snyder might agree, since Gaskins was even better known as a great linebacker who would go on to have a short NFL career with the Rams and Panthers. It's sort of mind-boggling that he started his college career at an NAIA school in northwestern Oklahoma because he couldn't get a Division I scholarship (he wanted to play both sports) even though he had won the US Junior Olympics by clearing 7 feet as a sophomore in high school.

Ed Broxterman - 2nd at the 1995 outdoor championships

Broxterman battled injuries for most of his career, but he did manage to make the 1996 Olympic team in Atlanta along with Harrison and Teaberry, though he didn't reach the final. He was perhaps Rovelto's first huge high-profile recruit, as the no. 1 high jumper in the country coming out of high school.

Itai Margalit - 2nd indoor and 3rd outdoor at the 1996 championships

Margalit was an Israeli who never quite soared to the same heights as some of his fellow Wildcats, but he did achieve a personal best of 2.27 in Tel Aviv in 1998. That's not too shabby.

Nathan Leeper - 1st in outdoor and 12th in indoor at the 1998 championships

Rovelto didn't have to look far to find this Greensburg, Kan., native who easily outdueled his teammate Charles Burney (9th at the outdoor championships) and everyone else with a jump of 2.27 meters at the NCAA championships, and he would go on to live up to his name and do even bigger and better things. Most notably, after college he finished 11th at the 2000 Olympics and once cleared 2.35 meters, which stands as the best jump ever by a Kansas State athlete.

Kyle Lancaster - 3rd in 2004, 10th in 2005, 2nd in 2006 at indoor championships; 4th in 2003, 2nd in 2004, 5th in 2005 at outdoor championships

Lancaster started a trend of incredibly consistent performers under Rovelto, even though he never quite got that elusive national title. At few other schools would the Fort Scott native's personal best of 2.31 be considered second-rate, but that's the risk you run when you go to High Jump U.

Scott Sellers - 9th in 2006, 3rd in 2007, 2nd in 2008, 1st in 2009 at indoor championships, 3rd in 2006, 1st in 2007, 4th in 2008, 1st in 2009 at outdoor championships

Prior to the Olympics, you probably could have made the argument that Sellers was the most decorated high jumper at Kansas State, as a 3-time national champion and 8-time All-American. Unfortunately, he lost in a jump-off against Nebraska's Dustin Jonas* for the last US Olympic spot in 2008, and despite his personal best of 2.33 meters at the 2007 Big 12 championships, he never really had much success at the highest level. He was also named the high school jump athlete of the decade by ESPN and USA Today in 2009.

*Jonas' best jump at the Olympics was 2.20, not even good enough to get him into the finals. Typical Husker choke job.

Erik Kynard - 11th in 2010, 3rd in 2011, T4th in 2012 at indoor championships, 6th in 2010, 1st in 2011, 1st in 2012 at outdoor championships

The whole word got a taste of Erik Kynard's awesomeness at all times this week, and as Jon and others have pointed out, he may be around a while. I'd be shocked if he doesn't shock Sellers' 2.35 meters at some point, though winning two more national titles next season or making another Olympic finals in Rio is far from a given.

Maybe the more important question for K-State track/field is: Who's next? For the women, sophomores Alyx Treasure and Joslyn Barnes certainly looked capable of carrying the torch when they finished 1st and 5th, respectively, at the Big 12 indoor championships last February. On the men's side, though, there are currently no elite high jumpers to take over following Kynard's graduation at the end of this season.