FS Interviews Kerry Lynch, Who Lost WCH Medal in Doping Scandal

FasterSkierMay 10, 201116

As the ski season for Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club (SSWSC) wound down, juniors coach and former World Cup nordic combined skier Kerry Lynch answered questions via phone and e-mail with FasterSkier correspondent Peter Minde.

A three-time nordic combined national champion, Lynch raced from 1979 until 1987, and his international success presaged the later successes of Ryan Heckman and the current crop of U.S. nordic combined skiers. A participant in the 1980 and 1984 Winter Olympics, Lynch finishing 18th and 13th, respectively, in the 15 k event. Other highlights include a win at Holmenkollen in 1983.

In 1987, Lynch won a silver medal in the 15 k nordic combined event at the World Championships in Oberstdorf, Germany. However, following a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) internal investigation in December of that year, Lynch admitted to blood doping at the Championships, and returned his medal. The International Ski Federation (FIS) imposed a two-year competition ban on Lynch, and he did not compete after that.

After his career ended, Lynch worked at an insurance brokerage that focused on the ski industry. He moved to Steamboat Springs in 1998, securing a job as an assistant coach with USSA. Lynch left the program after the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, to build his own insurance business.

Currently, Lynch volunteers as a coach with SSWSC, assisting Head Coach Martin Bayer. When he injured his ACL during in fall 2010, Bayer said, “It was easy for [Lynch] to step right in. He knew what we were working on with every athlete. The kids respect him; they know where he’s coming from.”

Lynch was one of the coaches on a training trip to Europe last summer, accompanying juniors who got a taste of travel and jumping at different venues in Poland, Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia. He also traveled to Otepaa, Estonia, for the Junior World Championships in January.

In the interview, Lynch speaks about his career as an athlete, and his work with juniors in Steamboat. He would not, however, discuss his medal and the subsequent doping scandal in 1987—for more details on that, see our related interview with Walter Malmquist, one of Lynch’s contemporaries.

FS: In an interview, the current U.S. Head Coach Dave Jarrett characterized the American nordic combined team as “skiers who jump.” In 1984, Sports Illustrated wrote that you “stayed close to the top” in the jumping portion of an event, to give yourself a chance at a good result in the cross-country portion of the race.

KL: For me personally, it was the challenge to get enough [jumping] training with high-level athletes. I lived in Europe, and trained with the Germans for a year. They helped me with jumping. I helped them with cross-country.

For the training part of it, we try to be balanced. You can do a solid cross-country program with less contact [with other elite athletes] than you need for jumping. It’s always been the jumping that’s a challenge. We’ve historically been good cross-country racers, and if we can improve jumping, we’ll continue to be a force in the sport.

I hear “how come the U.S. doesn’t have good jumpers?” I hear that all the time. First, you have to be funded.  It’s a very expensive sport to do properly. We’re trying to find the funds to create the program to overcome the inherent challenges of where we’re located. We can do our homework here [in the U.S.], but we need to hone our skills with contact with other athletes.

FS: You said, “First, you have to be funded. It’s a very expensive sport to do properly.”  Can you provide details of some of the expenses involved with jumping?

KL: First, it is important to know that ski jumping and nordic combined are joined at the hip. Nordic combined athletes need a wide variety of quality jumps to [compete in] their sport. There are few ski jumps in North America compared to Europe. Competitions for nordic combined need jumps first.

Cross-country courses can be created just about anywhere. We in North America have few jumping facilities, yet in Europe, there are dozens of ski jumps in close proximity.  So, Canada and the U.S. have the added expense of having to access Europe, and the all-important “contact” with the Europeans. It costs $25,000 to $30,000 annually, per nordic combined athlete at a minimum (at the Continental Cup and World Cup levels), to provide the funding need to excel.

FS: So, getting into your coaching—the juniors’ race season is over?

KL: We’re done with the season. It freezes at night and goes above freezing during the day—that’s not ideal conditions for jumping. It’s good to get the kids on a jump so they can work on a few things and get locked in.

FS: In one of our conversations, you’d mentioned that the jump at World Juniors in Estonia had unique characteristics—can you expand on that?

KL: The jump in Otepaa was difficult for a lot of athletes. The wind came mostly from the back at the takeoff, but swirled around, and there was actually some light headwind from the middle of the landing hill on down. So most of the guys would come off the takeoff and not feel the pressure right away and “hesitate”, which would stop the rotation, and they wouldn’t get on top of the air, lose the airfoil and land short. There were only a few athletes that seemed to master the jump. Kaarel Nurmsalu, from Otepaa, jumping on his home hill, won both nordic combined jumping events (as well as a bronze medal in the special jumping).

FS: Were athletes at Junior Worlds also on the European trip last summer, and were they able to apply lessons from that?

KL: The athletes that went to Europe in the summer were the athletes “targeted” to represent the U.S. in the 2011 World Juniors. In nordic combined, it is critical that the athletes get in some training on jumps at lower altitudes, because there is more air pressure, and lower in-run speeds are used. The guys were able to ski jump on five different hills in [our] training camp last summer, in Zakopane, Poland; Stebske Pleso, Czech Republic; Villach, Austria; and Kranj, Slovenia. Each jump has its own characteristics, and it is important for athletes to learn how to adapt to the different hills. Still, a single trip to Europe is not enough to properly prepare, but it is better than no trip.

FS: Do your athletes ever come east to train?

KL: Yes—typically, for a camp with the U.S. team in October, in Lake Placid. It’s a huge help for them to be with our own guys. With juniors, we’re always going to struggle to keep them in contact [with elite athletes] while they’re in high school.

FS: Is there more training variety in Europe?

KL: Sure. There’s a lot more facilities there.  Here, we have Steamboat.  Then five-and-a-half hours away is Park City. Then, there are facilities in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois…You can figure out how to jump your own hill really well. Then you have to take that ability and apply it to new venues.

It’s ironic that kids tend to do the sports that are in their back yard. We try to have kids be well-rounded. They try alpine, tele skiing, jumping, cross-country. The kids coming up through our ranks tend to be mostly nordic combined. It’s just fun to fly off the side of a mountain.

FS: In the U.S., nordic combined seems to have a smaller talent pool than cross-country.  But the nordic combined program seems to have developed steadily over the past 20 years.

KL: Yes, the nordic combined talent pool in the U.S. is tiny, compared to the other powerhouse nations of Germany, Austria, Norway, France, and others. We have experienced coaches and have been able to craft plans that create the outcomes that have been achieved. It was not a fluke that Bill Demong, Johnny Spillane and Todd Lodwick became the best and most revered nordic combined athletes on the planet, bar none, for two years running. Those three won more medals than all other teams in the past two world championships and Olympics. That success was achieved by having the appropriate financial backing and support that started before the 1998 Nagano Olympics.  Unfortunately, the financial support has dwindled each year. If we are to continue this high level of success, we’ll have to fully support the next generation of athletes that are on the rise.

FS: The U.S. cross-country program has made big strides in the last ten years, but isn’t yet at the level of the U.S. nordic combined program. Do you have any insight about this?

KL: That is a difficult question that can be answered better by the brain trust of cross-country. From the nordic combined side, I think the recent successes have come from a combination of things. First, the current U.S. coaches—Dave Jarrett, Chris Gilbertson and Greg Poirier—have been together longer than any other U.S. nordic combined coaches. This continuity has allowed the nordic combined program to develop, and finally prosper. Also, the most successful nordic combined athletes have had [persistence]. Todd Lodwick, Bill Demong, and Johnny Spillane were exposed to the highest level early in their careers, learned that the bar was set high, and continued to strive to be the best.

Success can take time. Athletes need time to develop and make progress. There will be ups and downs, bumps in the road. Coaches and administrators need to be patient.  Results will come when the talent, determination, and dog-hard

Kerry Lynch

work all come together.  Athletes need to be supported as they are coming along. Too often, athletes are written off too soon, and go different directions. We have seen that many of the top endurance athletes reach success at advanced athletic ages. Given more time and better financial support, our stellar stable of cross-country athletes can win medals. No questions about it.

FS: Do people ever hassle you about the past?

KL: It never comes up. It was a moment in time. You want to leave the sport better than you found it. It’s a shame when athletes retire and don’t share. There’s no point to just retire and keep information to yourself. Mostly…you have a passion for it. It’s a lifestyle. People that harbor animosity about things in the past, it takes them about a minute to get to know you. They realize you mean well for the athletes. They assume because this happened, you’re this kind of person. I’ve got one speed:  that’s mach 1 with my hair on fire. I bring that fire and determination to help kids to well. Once people see that… I don’t spend one second on the past.


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  • Big Joe

    May 11, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Hey! This article and the Malmquist piece are two more in the line of April Fool in May bits right? Surely this obsequiousness cant be real! I just cant imagine that the fine journalists at FasterSkier would give a free pass to the lone American nordic skier busted for doping in an effort to burnish his cred. If this were a real journalistic piece there’s no way one would refer to questions about doping as getting “hassled” right? If this were real – one would expect a real and thoughtful discussion of doping and the pressure of sport that made that bad decision possible. See — then the young fans of FasterSkier would learn something and the sport would indeed be better for it!

    Thanks for another funny April Fool bit!

  • caldxski

    May 12, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Big Joe–

    It’s not a perfect world.

    John Caldwell

  • nordic_dave

    May 12, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    The positive way to look at this story is the experience and leadership Kerry has provided to SSWSC. Last I checked a couple of recent Olympic medalists and a World Champion came out of this SSWSC program. Coincedence, I think not.
    Yup that could use some “BURNISHING”.

    On a personal basis you have to admire a man who admits his past mistakes, unlike so many today in denial. “Burnishing” some pearls of wisdom looks to me to have created success at SSWSC from ironically the coach’s demise as an athlete. Sometimes things happen for a reason that we can’t always clearly see or understand in the heat of the moment. That to me is a positive teaching moment. Whether it’s the latest generation of Nordic Combined Jr.’s moving up and or our Olympic medalists from Steamboat, Lodwick & Spillane, we have a lot to be thankful for regarding Kerry’s contribution to our sport.

    Cheers, Dave

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    May 12, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Many athletes in differnt sports were/are offered the opportunity to use drugs or blood packing in order to cheat to beat others. Those “others” trained just as hard, and spent as much, or more, time and money, getting to a particular point as the cheaters. Some accept the cheating “out”. and are caught and some get away with cheating. As I recall, Mr. Lynch only came forward when it was brought to light that he was going to be exposed.

    I feel any article on Mr. Lynch should focus on his falling into the doping trap, and what lessons have been learned, or it really is of little worth. His fame was not as a ski racer, but for his results from doping. That really is the story.

  • Nathaniel Herz

    May 12, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    I can say that all of these were issues that we discussed in the reporting and editing of this article. It was a tough call on whether or not to run the interview with Mr. Lynch, since he refused to answer questions on his doping scandal. However, we felt that the supporting materials–the interview with Malmquist–did take a tougher look, asked some tougher questions, and, I think, offered a little insight into Mr. Lynch’s decision.

  • JohnKlister

    May 12, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    The two interviews with Kerry Lynch and Walter Malmquist are astounding propaganda! Mr. Lynch discussed the development of the sport and coaching, while Mr. Malmquist acted as Lynch’s surrogate and mounted a poor attempt to dismiss Mr. Lynch’s doping history and vouch for his ethics and morals. These two interviews written by the same person and published the same day should make even the most casual reader concerned. What is the point of publishing these two interviews in the absence of any real questioning of the real issue?
    To my knowledge Mr. Lynch has never come forward and discussed his personal experience with doping. What is the point of interviewing the only admitted doper in US skiing history and not discussing his involvement in doping? I believe it is a relevant discussion in light of his involvement with youth in sports and is something all supporters of the ski programs should be concerned with. Yes, Mr. Lynch has every right to refuse to discuss his past; likewise the ski community has every right, and I would argue the responsibility, to demand that he candidly discuss his doping, if he wants to have an active role in the ski sports.
    The author should have used this opportunity to probe Mr. Lynch on his views of doping today and whether he has any regrets. Perhaps this would provide young athletes with a perspective on the topic that they had not considered. Doping is part of modern sport, and is has been for many years. Mr. Lynch could have indeed given something back to his sport though and open and candid interview, but for no apparent reason he refuses. The rehabilitation of athletes and coaches should not come simply with the passage of time, but after candid admission and discussions of their doping transgressions.
    Because Mr. Lynch’s doping was undetectable at the time, and two decades or more have passed a “free pass” is not warranted. Mr. Lynch and his coaches knew blood doping was prohibited; they premeditatedly planned the doping process, the stored and transfused the blood right before the World Championship, and they cheated, defrauded clean competitors, including his own teammates. They are no different than the dopers of today. Be there no doubt, the lie would have continued right up to today, had they not been exposed.
    I assume the interviews with Mr. Lynch and Mr. Malmquist were intended to rehabilitate or measure the public response to Mr. Lynch’s’ return to the sport at a high level. Many of the answers from Mr. Lynch focused on his personal experiences in the sports, and his views on coaching and development. Virtually none of the interview focused on his current role with the local program he works for in a volunteer capacity, the SSWSC. Given the primary focus of the interview on the development of the sport and high level performance the author was not obligated to avoid direction questions regarding doping.
    The supporting interview with Mr. Malmquist is clear in its intent, to justify and minimize the admitted doping offense. For Mr. Malmquist to state that blood doping is akin to weight lifting, and the use of coke syrup in feeds, clearly illustrates how out of touch he is. Mr. Minde should have probed far deeper into these illogical views. Mr. Malmquist tries hard to make a case that Mr. Lynch is really a nice guy, he was driven, and a team leader, which are all important characteristics but avoids the real issue. In fact Mr. Malmquist was not a peer of Mr. Lynch’s’ and there any number of team mates and coaches who could have provided a far more complete back ground interview.
    Further, Mr. Malmquist implies that Marja-Liisa Hämäläinen was a doper based on rumor or a reported nickname. The author in an attempt to assign guilt, references her relationships with her husband at the time, Harri Kirvesnemi. This is a slanderous statement given that Marja-Liisa Hämäläinen, has to my knowledge, never tested positive, been implicated, nor admitted doping. This is just another veiled attempt to minimize and rationalize Mr. Lynch’s’ own admitted doping. “The everyone else is cheating, so I had to theory”
    Mr. Malmquist clearly values Mr. Lynch’s morals, ethics, and principals. According to Malmquist, Mr. Lynch should be working with developing skiers. That is the point of both interviews, to promote Mr. Lynches coaching activities and Mr. Lynchs’, value and credentials as a coach! There is no doubt Mr. Lynch has something to offer athletically and if he desires he should be a coach, but before this goes any further he should be a good role model, and do what is principled, moral, and ethical. Candidly, discuss his personal doping experiences and states his views on doping today. With all of the rationalizing of his doping it is hard to tell where Mr. Lynch stands on doping.

  • Tim Kelley

    May 12, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    Did that rant feel good JK? Thanks for playing. Here’s your sign.

    Perhaps the North American cross country skiing community should talk about the big picture goal of for Nordic skiing. I would think the big goal in North America would be to become the most vibrant and successful cross country and NC skiing mecca in the world. But it seems many, like JK, would rather put energy into making Nordic skiing in the US a whiners’ and backstabbers’ mecca instead.

    To be a great ski nation it takes lots of people, not just racers but coaches, organizers, fans and supporters. So how does it help the sport to continually run people with passion, knowledge and energy out of it? Face it, a lot of smart and energetic people leave ski racing behind when they retire because of lack of money in the sport and petty politics. And lack of money. Oh, did I mention that there is little money in the sport if you want to stay involved with it? There are a lots of cool, fun and much more profitable avenues to take after ski racing.

    So, if you have people that still want to be involved with this sport after they retire from racing and they have a lot to offer then they should be welcomed. Because they are a rarity. And they should not be crucified for decades for something stupid that did when they were young and dumb. What’s next? Are we going to say coaches are not fit for duty if 20 years ago they drank a beer under-age or told their mommy a fib?

    Lynch screwed up, a very long time ago. He knows it. He wants to make amends and pay back the sport for his mistakes. Smart people with the big picture in focus should welcome Lynch back.

  • nordic_dave

    May 12, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    I am curious if Middlebury College has ever had an Ex Con teach a class? Shocking as it would seem…

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    May 12, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    i would not know about Midd profs, as CU is in my heart (go buffs). But I am confident that no relative university would accept a prof. with a criminal past who did not both accept his punishment and then rebuke the crime.

    The guy might be a wonderful coach, but the reason we are discussing him is he cheated, and would have gotten away with it if not for some loose lips. If Mr. Lynch was racing today, and he beat Kris Freeman, or Todd Lodwick, for example, and it was discovered a few months later he blood packed, we would be whistling a different tune I am sure.

    Admit, ask forgiveness, and then help educate against the failures…I suggest. Others, more wise, and faster, than I, might disagree, but I have a real low tolerance for blood dopers, given the money, emotion and time we all sank into this sport at some point. Please, Mr. Lynch, after 25 years, full disclosure or do not bother…..

  • Big Joe

    May 13, 2011 at 4:52 am

    Nathan: Thanks for the behind the scenes commentary. I wish you had revealed that Lynch refused to answer doping questions. That piece of information casts a far more favorable light on your reporter’s work and your editing. And a far darker shadow over Mr. Lynch in my view.

  • nordic_dave

    May 13, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Thanks Tim Kelly for your commenting, yes by all means lets make the guy feel horrible and run him off! By all means everything he has done at the last 13 years at SSWSC should be ignored.

    Lynch did his best to keep things in this article in the here and now. A free pass ? What does he owe you in terms of an explanation? Nothing! Do we know his relationship with SSWSC and how that has transpired over the years? No.
    Actually I give a free pass all the time to those who actually DO something to help the success and growth of our sport.

    I went to CU as well, what I learned in the journalism classes that I took is if those interviewed can be damaged by the interview, they tend to decline to be interviewed and that is also their right to privacy.

    Declining the interview in retrospect was probably the best course of action for Kerry, he doesn’t need us. I’m pretty sure
    we need him.

  • hbxcskier

    May 13, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    It is unbelievable that someone would compare doping to drinking beer underage.

    Doping is theft. It robs your fellow competitors of their rightful placing, personal glory, future sponsorships, prize money, etc. Even if the cheater is caught, the damage has already been done, getting your rightful medal in the “mailbox” will never be the same.

    During the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympics I saw my two childhood heros Thomas Alsgaard and Frode Estil golds stolen from them in the 20k pursuit by Muhlegg. In the 30k freestyle the top three finishers were all doped, Muhlegg’s medal was taken from him, but Hoffman’s and Botvinov’s have yet to be. Muhlegg likely ruined the career of Per Elofsson because of the overtraining he did to keep up with Muhlegg. Beckie Scott finished 3rd in the 10k pursuit behind two dopers, she was not awarded her gold until almost two and a half years later.

    I was honestly a little surprised that this was not another April Fools piece too.

  • Peter Minde

    May 13, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    My name is Peter Minde, and I wrote the story. Big Joe, the seventh paragraph actually says “He would not, however, discuss his medal and the subsequent doping scandal in 1987.”

    I don’t condone doping in any way. But this is a country where people get second chances. He’s done his time and he’s giving back to the ski community. How long should someone have to pay for a transgression? Who’s qualified to decide?

  • JohnKlister

    May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Tim and Peter
    I don’t see where anyone is suggestion Mr Lynch not be allowed in the sport, or denied a second chance. Certainly I did not say that. Welcome him back by all means! I would as well.

    But second changes are earned from building trust! Regardless of what he has done the past 15 years, he should confront the so called “elephant” in the room. Tim, you seem to have a pretty narrow view on cheating as seen in your post on asthma. I suspect you would want to know Mr Lynches postion on cheating as he gets back into a coaching role!

    I think it is only fair that he discuss his doping and publically admit it, which he never has, and clearly state his current position on doping. This is an important issue and the community, and more improtantly young athletes needs to know the facts.

  • caldxski

    May 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    John Klister

    I guess there are some things I don’t understand.

    Let’s say someone commits a crime, gets caught, gets a sentence and serves out the sentence. Now are you telling us this person has to go around and preach about his guilt? I never heard of such an approach, UNLESS this was part of the sentence (which it sometimes is).

    Kerry Lynch “served his time,” so to speak. Why don’t you stop beating a dead horse?

    John Caldwell

  • teamepokeedsbyn

    May 18, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Witn all the greatest respect to John and John above, the article discusses what a wonderful ski educator mr. Lynch has become. He is a ski educator. He robbed many other athletes glory that cannot be purchased back, stealing their money and years spent training.n if a skier beat TC, Becky Scott, or Kris Freeman, via doping, they need to own their crime, and, especially, if seeking to be a ski coach, use their experience to educate the public on the many levels that drug cheating robed the athletes, fans and sponsors.

    Many north American xc coaches over the years have implied, with disgust, the possibility of Russian, italian, Finn, etc. Skiers are doping. Do we give a pass to mr. “spain” jm from 2002? How about the girls who beat Becky Scott out of her oly ceremony? No. No difference here. They guy needs to own his crime and
    educate in my opinion… I guess that only the guys, and their families, who he beat at those WC’s 25 years ago should feel that way?

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