Kerry Lynch emerges from the trees on the far side of the meadow in West Yellowstone, Mont., chuffing like a coal-burning locomotive, white bursts of chilled breath drifting back along either side of his head. As he flashes past, using his long, powerful skiing stride, he leaves the impression of a lithe, whippy body and a pleasant, athletic face—athletic because his nose has obviously been ravaged a time or two. Suddenly, as Lynch skis along, he disappears for a moment behind a stand of aspen and pine, and then at a growing distance, in the black-and-white winter world, his image flickers between the trees like someone in an oldtime movie.
"He's actually picking up speed," says Doug Peterson, cross-country coach of the U.S. Nordic combined team, as he watches Lynch train. Peterson looks up from his stopwatch. "Now, that's awesome. Kerry skis the 15 kilometers—the whole 9.3 miles—like it was some mad, all-out sprint. He gets stronger as the race wears on. He knocks off guys one by one as he goes. And he usually runs down his last man in the stadium, just before the finish line." And then Peterson makes a cold pronouncement: "Kerry Lynch," he says, "has the best chance of any U.S. Nordic skier of winning a medal at Sarajevo. Any U.S. Nordic skier."
Truly? But in the combined, with its jumps and all?
Peterson nods. "The works."
Well, a certain coachly pride can be forgiven, partly because the event in question is the Nordic combined. Here's a tiny, slightly daft sport-within-a-sport, one of the jewels of the Winter Olympics—a hoary event where few are called and even fewer chosen. The skiers must master two mean disciplines that make opposing demands on their bodies: First they jump three times on the 70-meter hill, and then they race 15 kilometers cross-country. The whole business takes two days, and the scoring system is so archaic and complicated that the few spectators who show up are always confused. Only when all the points are totaled does anybody really discover who did what to whom. And against the greater Olympic backdrop, not too many people care.
Now maybe some Americans will. After almost a century of Scandinavian domination in the combined, the U.S. has come up with Kerry Lynch. As a 22-year-old in his first Olympic competition, he came in 18th at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid. By the end of 1982, he had climbed to fifth in the world standings. And last year, among other things, he won the U.S. championship and was awarded the King's Cup at Norway's Holmenkollen, only the second time in 100 years that an American had made off with that most prestigious prize. Lynch also won at Lahti, under the Finns' very noses, and he was second at Sapporo, Japan.
Indeed, if there had been such a thing as a Nordic Combined World Cup in 1983, as there is this year, Lynch probably would have taken that bauble home, too. He was leading the international circuit going into the final meet in Strbske Pleso, Czechoslovakia in March—but the U.S. team, assuming that most of the top competitors would not show up in Strbske Pleso, and that Lynch had the title wrapped up anyway, chose not to attend, something that certainly wouldn't have occurred had this been an official World Cup event. A couple of East Germans sneaked ahead of Lynch on points earned at Strbske Pleso; still, he ended the year in the world's top three, the best standing ever by a U.S. combined skier.
As gratifying as that lofty ranking may have been for Lynch, it may be just as notable for the psychological kick it provided American Nordic skiers. They've long been obliged to stand blinking in the reflected toothy glamour of the U.S. Alpine ski team, with its Phils and Tamaras and Cindys. But now they've got their very own Kerry Joel Lynch, 26, the pride of Silver Creek, Colo. and nearby road-houses. Lynch is lean and handsome at 5'10" and 155 pounds, and suitably dappled with scars, including two sewed-back-on fingers. He's a former giant slalom ski racer and teen-age slalom ace, an ex-rodeo bull rider and collegiate boxer.
And he's a cowboy dance-band drummer—more on that presently—and a knockout stand-up impressionist. Lynch has a wealth of faces and accents, and, if he wants, he can make his eyes go all blank like Little Orphan Annie's. Gosh all fishhooks, Daddy Warbucks! He pretends to stand at the top of a ski jump, teetering forward to peek over the edge, and squeaks, "Ooooooh, look at all the teensy people down there! They're like ants." And then, leaping onto the imaginary inrun, he looks around in wide-eyed wonder as the world flies by.
Want to know how Lynch's nose got broken the first time? Not skiing. This is one of his better routines, in which he plays all the parts. "Well, I'd just given this 1,100-pound steer a bath," he says. "I'd scrubbed him all over, to show him in the auction ring back home in Colorado, at the Kremmling County Fair. And I was blow-drying him with my hair dryer so he'd look pretty. I got to blow-drying him back around his tail. Well, maybe even under his tail a bit. I was daydreaming about how much money he'd bring.... Well, he gradually got this really grieved look on his face and he sort of sloooowly cocked back one hind leg and, suddenly—pow!"