A top the 160-foot-tall tower, a goggled figure on skis pauses. He crouches low, springs onto a steep track and hurtles down the in-run. Leaving the track at 55 mph, he soars some 275 feet in the air, his body stretched almost parallel to his skis. For five or six long seconds he is an airborne creature, seemingly immune to earth's pull. Twenty-four hours later the same figure is distinctly earthbound. Strapped into a very different pair of skis, he embarks on a grueling cross-country trek.

These vastly contrasting disciplines make up the Nordic combined, an Olympic event hitherto dominated by the Scandinavian countries, Finland, and East and West Germany. But next month at Sarajevo a 26-year-old Coloradan named Kerry Lynch may just change all that. According to Lynch's coach, Joe Lamb, a '72 Olympian in the Nordic combined at Sapporo, "For the first time we have an athlete capable of winning gold."

As it happens, any medal in the event would be an Olympic first for the United States. Two-time national champion Lynch, however, has already made his mark by taking a first in a World Cup competition at Lahti, Finland. He also took home the prestigious King's Cup from Oslo, only the second time in the trophy's 100-year history that an American has won it. Lynch finished third overall in world standings for his event last year.

Devised by the Scandinavians, the Nordic combined consists of a 70-meter jump and a 15-kilometer cross-country ski race the following day. The differing skills require the athlete to find the proper balance between the strength and timing required for the jump, and the endurance and technique needed for cross-country. "It's like a sprinter running a half-marathon," says Kerry. Lynch consistently finishes higher in the cross-country than in the jump but divides his training time evenly. "Sometimes," he says, "I think my muscles are confused as to what they are supposed to do."

The son of a Colorado rancher, Lynch credits his upbringing for his mental toughness as well as his skiing prowess. "It was a rugged life," he recalls, "real healthy. In winter we would all ski, my father, my brother and my five sisters." To pass the time on those long winter nights in the mountains, the Lynches formed a country-and-Western band, with Kerry playing the drums and singing a little bass too. A champion downhill skier in high school, Lynch also competed in cross-country and jumping. At Western State University in Colorado, he chose Nordic competition because there was a better chance to reach the top. By 19, he had won the national junior title. Leaving Western in his sophomore year, Lynch earned a spot on the 1980 Olympic team and placed 18th at Lake Placid.

Lynch spends eight months a year training on the European ski circuit. The past two summers he's been joined by his girlfriend of four years, 22-year-old Chrissy Lewis, a former All-America skier at Middlebury College, Vt. Lewis, also from Colorado, skis for the women's cross-country team but narrowly missed earning a spot on the squad for Sarajevo.

Lynch and his three teammates follow an unexciting training regimen. "You just try to live clean," says Lynch. Up at 7 a.m. for stretching exercises, they work on waxing and preparing their skis until breakfast. At the mountain the group does four or five jumps while being videotaped. The team changes gears in the afternoon and heads out to the cross-country trail. Returning to their hotel, they eat dinner, do their laundry in any available washbasin and watch the videotapes of the day's work. By 9 or 10 p.m., they're usually out cold. Says Lamb, "If they have the focus to become international athletes—top international athletes—they know they can't burn the candle at both ends."

The routine is tinged with a touch of the exotic, however. South Korean Daeshik Seo, part physiotherapist, part health guru, has been traveling with the team since November and will accompany them to Sarajevo. An expert in stretching, Seo, 43, has helped Lynch solve a nagging "jumper's knee" condition, which an operation last year only partially cured. "My fingers are like X rays," intones Seo. "When I felt his knee, I realized that two nerves were not in the right place, and I pushed them back in their place." Joining other athletes Seo has worked with, such as boxers Larry Holmes and Michael Dokes, Lynch praises the Korean miracle worker, and says, "After the first treatment my pain was gone." Others on the team are less enchanted with Seo; after the tiny Korean once awoke them at 7 a.m. instead of the promised 7:30, one athlete grumbled, "I feel overstretched and underslept."

In preparation for Sarajevo, Lynch and the others will spend 10 days in St. Moritz, Switzerland, in friendly rivalry with the opposing Norwegian team: The two coaches have even planned board games and movies for evening get-togethers. "I don't believe in getting the boys angry and all worked up over the last few weeks before the Olympics," says Lamb. Nonetheless, he's bringing along the Rocky movies for inspiration. And like the Italian Stallion, Lynch has every intention of going the distance at Sarajevo.

  • Contributors:
  • Traudl Lessing.