Cronk cleared 7 feet 2 to win the Class 4A state title as a junior but has his sights set on breaking Rick Noji’s state mark of 7-4½ this season. He will compete in the elite Arcadia Invitational in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Physics can be boring, unless you’re watching Tyler Cronk. The Kentridge senior high jumper is science personified as he soars in the air to clear heights among the best in Washington and the nation. Cronk, the defending Class 4A state champion, cleared a personal-best 7 feet, 2 inches last year.
He’s cleared 7 feet twice this season, which is tied for fourth in the nation. Cronk will compete with the elites in the Arcadia Invitational in Los Angeles on Saturday – his first out-of-state meet.
“There’s all kinds of physics that goes into it,” said longtime Ingraham track and field coach Kurt Spann, who also teaches the course. “The path the athlete travels as they go over the high jump is a parabolic path. Then there’s the different rotations … just this year, I’ve been speaking with our P.E. teacher and photography art teacher for a three-way integrated curriculum to teach the high jump, adding the science and physics behind it.”
Cronk has the perfect build for a high jumper with his wispy 6-foot-9 frame topped with a curly faux Mohawk. Yes, he plays basketball, suiting up the past four years for the Chargers.
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But the year-round games started to take a toll after his freshman year.
“We went for one of his physicals and his doctor said, ‘That’s not good for your body,’ ” Cronk’s mother Mary Kay said. “He said he had to do another sport and suggested football, but Tyler said he wasn’t good at that. Then the doctor said he’d be good at track; that he needed to work different muscles in his body and not focus on basketball all year long. And here we are.”
Tyler could clear only 6-5 — once — in his first high-school season as a sophomore, placing eighth at state at 6 feet. Once he learned the physics of the jump, also mining the Internet for videos and tutorials, he was able to blend his natural talents to consistently clear 6-5 and twice top 7 feet last season.
A favorite of Cronk’s is two-time Olympic medalist Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar. Although shorter at 6-4, the athletes look similar. In 2014, Barshim cleared 7-11½ to rank second in the world behind Cuban Javier Sotomayor (8 feet).
Every practice, Cronk sets the bar at 7-5 to look at while warming up and he hopes to soon clear the height. It would be a Washington record, topping the 7-4½ that Franklin’s Rick Noji set in 1984.
“I’ve been super-close to hitting 7-4, but the bar wiggles and falls off,” said Cronk. “But I was still amazed with myself. I guess I have the bounce for it; I just have to get over the bar.”
Cronk credits Kentridge boys track and field coach Al Waltner for developing him. A former pole-vaulter for the University of Washington in the 1970s, Waltner is familiar with the event, but has solicited advice to help guide Cronk, whom Waltner regards as the best track and field athlete the program has seen in his 30 years.
Spann spoke at a coaches’ clinic about physics and the high jump. And the legendary Dick Fosbury, who invented his namesake flop and resides in Idaho, has shared training tips.
Waltner also worked to get Cronk in the Arcadia Invitational, where he’ll line up against the toughest competition of his budding career. Among the expected field is senior Sean Lee of Trabuco Hills in Mission Viejo, Calif. He cleared a personal-best 7-3 in February, the top mark in the nation this season.
“It’s all about physics,” Waltner said. “Like a pogo-stick event. And I think it’ll be easier for Tyler to achieve a high level if he’s got that little extra push in trying to win and not being all about a record.”
Cronk is looking forward to the trip. He’s at ease in the spotlight from first experiencing big crowds as a bass singer in jazz choirs.
“I want to be able to float through the air,” Cronk said. “Because I know I can reach higher heights and so does my coach. I just need to relax and jump over the bar.”