Steamboat Springs’ Erik Lynch launches off the K-68 hill during training Friday morning at Howelsen Hill.

Photo by John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs’ Erik Lynch launches off the K-68 hill during training Friday morning at Howelsen Hill.

Steamboat's 16-year-old Erik Lynch shows Nordic combined promise

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Steamboat Springs’ Erik Lynch launches off of Steamboat’s K-68 hill during training Friday morning.

— Kerry Lynch had no intentions of having his son follow in his tracks.

Lynch was one of the United States’ first big things on the Nordic combined scene. He competed in two Olympic Games, finishing 13th in Sarajevo in 1984. He also helped coach the U.S. team for a period of time.

But when his son, Erik, came along, Kerry said it wasn’t much of a decision. Along with his wife, Chrissy, who skied cross-country World Cups, Kerry tried his best to get Erik to go a different direction.

“I think it’s a grind,” Kerry Lynch said Friday at the base of Howelsen Hill. “Both Chrissy and I were world-class athletes. I just think it’s a very difficult sport to excel in. There is only one path for Nordic combined, and that’s the top. We have one team. When you’re a national team, that’s it.

“It’s not like football where there are hundreds of teams. We kind of knew the level. To take this path, you’re going to avoid a lot of experiences like high school football. We tried to expose him to everything, anything but this. Not that we don’t like it, we just know it’s extremely difficult.”

But Erik had other ideas, and it’s no wonder now. At 16, Erik is part of a new and upcoming crop of Nordic combined skiers.

This past winter, the Steamboat Springs resident won three Junior Olympic titles. He’s trained with the U.S. Ski Team the past two summers and, barring injury or some unforeseen circumstance, will more than likely make the world junior team in January.

“My dad didn’t want me to get into ski jumping,” Erik said. “He was the coach of the U.S. team, and he took me to training some days. The older guys like Todd (Lodwick), Billy (Demong) and Johnny (Spillane) would pull me out skiing. I guess I just got into it because of them.”

On the upswing

Honest truth, Nordic combined is and probably always will be a fringe sport. But fresh off the success at the Olympics, it never has been hotter.

Evidence came Friday afternoon in a friendly old-versus-young soccer game that broke up the U.S. team’s training camp this week.

In the simplest terms, the young team far outnumbered the old team. The Nation­­al Training Team, featuring skiers on the cusp, was full of young talent such as Erik. It’s essentially the next wave of Nordic combined athletes.

“For the most part, these are kind of the 2018 (Olympic) kids in this group,” said Dave Jarrett, the U.S. Nordic combined head coach. “It’s great to have so many to choose from. It’s great to have that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue that.”

Jarrett said in a sport where most athletes peak in their mid- to late 20s, it’s tough to identify skiers at a young age.

“It’s a little bit like taking a dozen eggs and throwing them against the wall, and out of a dozen you might get one or two,” he said. “That’s the only way we can do it. Our country is so big and the sport is so small that we have to nurture all the talent. Eventually, natural selection takes over, and some make it and some don’t.”

But Erik Lynch is one of the skiers Jarrett has his eye on. Erik’s athletic abilities always were present just from his blo­odlines. But early on, Kerry saw a balance that was needed in the sport. Jumping requires an explosive move, and the skiing requires a marathon-like endurance.

“You could tell he was a talent,” Kerry said. “Finally, we said, ‘If this is what you want to do, go ahead and do it.’”

What might set Erik apart already is evident in his intense work ethic. In the summer, he works out twice a day, six days a week. It’s the same in the winter, except he also attends high school.

The road ahead

At 16, Erik has a long time ahead of him in a sport where he is probably 10 years from his peak.

But with anticipated spots on the U.S. Ski Team opening in the next four years, Erik said he’s just focused on getting to the highest level he can. Considering his work ethic and bloodlines, he could reach that high level sooner than later.

“Absolutely, this group right here we’ve named as the Nation­­al Training Group,” Jarrett said. “Erik and Michael Ward and Cliff Field, they’re the top of that class. They’ve been proving it in competitions. They are on the cusp. With Erik, he’s a fair bit younger than those guys, but he’s certainly on the radar. But the good thing is it’s the same thing with everyone here.”

Although Erik doesn’t have a blueprint for where he wants to be in two, or even four years, he said the goal has been the same since he persuaded his old man to let him compete in the sport.

“It’s tough to know when certain things will happen,” he said. “You set what you want to do and where you want to be and then work towards that. There are going to be setbacks, and four years is a long time. A lot can happen. You just have to keep working toward it, which is what I always wanted.”

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