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Toledo Olympian weighs in on mental pressures from Olympic games

Between the shut down this year, no audience in the arena, and added pressure as athletes age, 2x Olympian from Toledo, Erik Kynard says the battle is 70% mental.
Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 7:43 AM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - As the Olympic pressure continues for our athletes at home and overseas, one former Gold Medalist from Toledo shares his journey on the sacrifice and mental strength it takes to rise to the occasion, over and over again.

2x Olympian high jumper Erik Kynard says in dangerous sports like high jump and gymnastics, your mental health is the most important thing you have to keep yourself from getting hurt.

For Kynard, meditation, prayer, and working with sports psychologists since the start of his career has helped him maintain mental strength between the ups and downs.

He says Biles handled the Olympics “perfectly,” and lends his support, expressing that everyone is going to have something to say, but the athlete is ultimately the only one who truly knows their body and what’s right for it.

Kynard ruptured his Achilles tendon, traditionally known as the kiss of death for an athlete, in a national competition in 2018 and had to battle his way to recovery, willing a national championship in 2020.

“So even if you’re an athlete, mentally, Simone Biles is still Simone, she could probably still gold medal and put on a performance, but because she’s not at a place where she’s competing to a level of her own expectation due to her mental state, or a mental state, I’ve been there, I’ve had to pull out of the competition after the Olympic trials,” shares Kynard, “so this is a new space, a new space mentally, physically, emotionally, so sometimes that’s what’s best.”

Kynard shares there’s an added pressure that athletes put on themselves as they age, with a much higher set of expectations and awareness, but says the key is understanding that the athlete is ultimately the one in control, not the fans.

“In high jump you fail continuously no matter how high you jump, you take 3 attempts and you miss and you’re done, so I think one thing that people miss the mark on in the focus and preparation is success is how to succeed through the failure when you have to be the failure,” says Kynard.

On top of the already high stakes, Kynard says the pandemic shut down was extremely hard for athletes, with closed gyms and infrastructures, he flew from his home in George to train in Ohio in a remote garage to try to gain some rhythm and routine during this time. Between the shut down, plus the lack of audience in the arena, he says this year’s Olympians are facing even more overwhelming variables than ever before. In dangerous sports like high jump and gymnastics, you have to be on your game mentally to avoid injury.

“You have to be mentally connected there can be no disconnect between focus, because when you’re competing at that high of a level, you go on autopilot, there’s no attempt to do anything, you either go out and do it, or it’s not going to be done,” Kynard says.

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