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For the last few months, motorists in the Colorado towns of Winter Park, Frisco, Kremmling and Steamboat Springs have been visited by a strange apparition: a man, clad in a skintight jump suit, goggles and a crash helmet, wearing heavy, wide, jumping skis, suspended in the prone position while harnessed to a six-foot scaffold atop a speeding green and white van, attended by two men who themselves were lashed to the roof of the vehicle. No, it wasn't some highway variation of a medieval torture, just a member of the U.S. Nordic combined team (cross-country skiing and ski jumping) putting in "air time" during the snowless season. And the two handlers were teammates making sure that his body and skis remained in a stable and aerodynamically correct jumping position.
The bizarre training exercise was invented by Steve Gaskill, head coach of the five-man combined team. "In the U.S. and other countries, wind-tunnel testing is used for skiers and jumpers," says Gaskill, "but to simulate ski jumping we really needed to hang a person without any resistance around him."
Because a jumper taking off from a 70-meter hill travels at about 56 mph, the team van usually slightly exceeded the speed limit. Gaskill ensured that their training sessions would be uninterrupted by briefing the Colorado Highway Patrol. Just don't do it on the Interstate, he was told, and, please, not during rush hours.
For each 10-minute session Gaskill used a straight, level 1�-mile stretch of lightly traveled road, over which he had each jumper "fly" four times. The participants found the exercise far more demanding than an actual jump, which takes between five and eight seconds.
"Hanging from the harness cuts your wind a little bit," says Kerry Lynch, a good bet for a medal at the world Nordic combined championships in Oslo this February. "To hold your best aerodynamic position for that long is quite exhausting. There is no sensation of falling. You're out there on the peak of a ride. The wind feels just as it does in an actual jump, with the air flow coming up from the windshield of the van. I feel more confident now, knowing exactly what position I have to reach in the air. I just must make sure I jump into that position."
Now that the snow season is here, Lynch will be able to practice on a real hill. Meanwhile, Gaskill is working on a refinement of his van-top contraption that lets the skiers actually jump into flight. And if mastering that doesn't enable them to win medals, at least it should get them jobs with the circus.
THE SENIOR CLASS IS THE BACKFIELD
BAIT AND SWITCH
Last week the NCAA did something it had never done before in its 75-year history: It put on national championships for women. These were in cross-country, and North Carolina State's Betty Springs and the University of Virginia won the Division I individual and team titles. By the end of this academic year the NCAA will have conducted tournaments in a dozen women's sports, an area previously governed by the AIAW, which holds championships in 19 sports, including cross-country. ( Iowa State won the AIAW cross-country meet, held in Pocatello, Idaho two days before the NCAA race in Wichita, Kans.)
The future of the AIAW, for the past decade the banner-bearer of women's collegiate athletics, is now threatened by the NCAA, which until last year was uninterested in or hostile to women's sports. At present, most schools are having to choose membership in one group or the other.