Jumpers from the upper valley, An area half in New Hampshire and half in Vermont, know the route by heart. You wind through the Green Mountains, through the villages of Bridgewater Corners, Pittsford Mills and Chimney Point, then on to Lake Placid, N.Y., where the U.S. Olympic ski jumping trials were held last week. Jim Holland, 20, who broke his back in a takeoff mishap last March and will miss the Olympics, once made the trip in two hours, two minutes. Another jumper, Chris Hastings, lowered the mark to one hour, 59 minutes.
Holland's older brother Mike, 26, took his time last week and arrived in three hours. Then he swept the overall jumping competition by dominating the 70- and 90-meter events, winning both rounds in each, to establish himself as the U.S.'s only hope for an Olympic ski jumping medal. The U.S. has won just one Olympic medal in the sport—a bronze that Anders Haugen earned at the first Winter Games, in Chamonix, France, in 1924. At Sarajevo, the Hollands' Norwich, Vt., neighbor Jeff Hastings, Chris's older brother, barely missed the bronze medal in the 90-meter event.
"Everyone in the Upper Valley skis," says the elder Hastings, 28, the jumping coach of the Nordic Combined team (whose best jumper, a third Holland brother, Joe, 23, won the Nordic Combined title on Sunday). "None of us would be here if it weren't for the Ford Sayre program."
Sayre was an Upper Valley innkeeper and winter-sports pied piper in the 1930s. The Ford Sayre Memorial Ski Council was created to honor Sayre, who died in World War II. The council's jumping program convenes three nights a week at Oak Hill on the outskirts of Hanover, N.H. There's a T-bar, a snow-pile jump for six-year-olds, and 20- and 30-meter jumps for rambunctious teenagers.
Mike Holland used to schuss right past those jumps. "I was into Alpine," he says. "Then one day Jeff and his dad tromped through our backyard with a pair of jumping skis, old wooden Northlands. They said, 'Use these.' " Mike soon outgrew Oak Hill and started using the 45-meter jump down the road. "The first time I climbed it, I was terrified," he says. "One guy had chickened out and was coming back down. He looked at me and shook his head. That almost made me turn back."
Holland joined Jeff Hastings on a powerhouse Hanover High ski team in the late '70s. He matriculated at Vermont just as the NCAA dropped ski jumping. His only outlet was the national team, and he made it as a walk-on in 1982. Three years later he set a ski flying world record of 186 meters off a 120-meter hill in Planica, Yugoslavia. But Finland's Matti Nyk�nen, who is favored at Calgary in both the 70- and 90-meter events, broke the record by one meter 20 minutes later.
In World Cup meets in December, Holland placed ninth in Canada, 15th in Japan, and fifth and sixth in Lake Placid. The circuit then moved to Europe, where he slumped; his best finish was a 24th. "But the form's coming back now," he says.
Also getting back to form is Mark Konopacke of Kingsford, Mich. He has finally recovered psychologically from a 1985 ski flying crash, an agony-of-defeat special. "It took me a long time to shake that off," says Konopacke, 24, the only other American to have scored World Cup points this season. He was the overall runner-up behind Holland last week.
Tad Langlois, 20, of Newport, N.H., placed third, and Dennis McGrane, 25, of Littleton, Colo., who breathed Upper Valley air while at Dartmouth, was fourth, followed by Matt Petri, 28, of Weston, Mass., and Chris Hastings, 23. All made the team, as did Rick Mewborn, 22, of Steamboat Springs, Colo., who missed the trials because of an inner-ear infection but was named as a discretionary pick.
Led by Mike Holland, the seven Lake Placid winners will now take another scenic route—to Calgary.