As Kerry Lynch’s career was ascending, Walter Malmquist’s career was peaking. Graduating from New Hampshire’s Holderness School, he joined the U.S. nordic combined team in 1974, retiring at the end of the 1980-1981 season. Competing in the 1976 and 1980 Winter Olympics, his best finish was 12th the 15 k nordic combined event in the 1980 Games, in Lake Placid. Today, Malmquist is a volunteer coach at the Holderness School, Proctor Academy, and Andover Outing Club. He spoke with FasterSkier about Lynch, and the nordic combined culture of the late 70’s and early 80’s.
FasterSkier: You were Kerry Lynch’s teammate for a couple of years, and at least one Olympics? 1980?
Walter Malmquist: I knew Kerry; I met him in 1978. He was coming on to the scene when I was having the best part of my career.
When I was a competitor, not many people skied past their college careers. Kerry’s ambition…Kerry was different. He was a person who wanted to be among the best in the world. That was his goal; that was his focus.
A lot of us only thought about skiing while we could afford to do so, while we were in college, or living at home with our parents, younger than 18, maybe going until 22 to 24 years old. But Kerry knew he was going to [compete] past college age. That made him unique in that time. Maybe [Bill] Koch is an example of another who pursued his career after college.
Kerry was the first American to pursue the sport as the Europeans did. And the results showed…it was clear to me that Kerry was setting goals to pursue international results until he was in his mid-20s. That enabled him to set up a training program and a competitive program that was a much longer time horizon, and that enabled him to do things that other people didn’t pursue, because they weren’t committed as Kerry was from an early point in their career.
FS: What was the culture of the U.S. nordic combined program like back then?
WM: Survival by tooth and nail. Every year, in the mid 70’s, there might be two or three competitors named to the elite team that traveled in Europe for a month or two, came back for national championships, and went back to Europe for a month or two.
Back then, it was a four- or five-month competitive season, and now it’s year-round…because of summer jumping facilities and summer cross-country training equipment. In those days, throughout the mid 70’s to 1980, there wasn’t very much funding for coaches’ expenses, competitors’ travel expenses, things that were quite expensive as they are…even today. It was a group of individuals that were committed to taking their ability to an international level from a national level. The bottom line is, if you were training on an international level, [you] didn’t know from year to year if there was going to be a nordic combined team.
We never knew if there would be a one-person or a three-person team named to the Olympics, which was really—and still is—the opportunity for Americans to show their ability at international competitions.
In the early 80’s, Gary Crawford, Kerry Lynch, and a group of people in Steamboat Springs and Winter Park [CO] got together with coach Steve Gaskill, and they put together a funded team. Those guys had the support of their communities. They were so committed. People believed in not only their talent, but they believed in their commitment.
They had a real team that had a jumping coach, Jeff Hastings, and a cross-country coach, Doug Peterson. Both [were] former international-caliber competitors who looked at every aspect of the competition, to provide those competitors their…advantages, and to improve on their weaknesses to do the best that they could.
Where Kerry had the right personality and the right commitment to improve his ability, his talent….His performances improved year after year after year. He kept taking it to the next level. Because he believed in the program, and the people who were helping him out.
FS: When you were a teammate with Kerry, was he driven, or was he laid back? Was he a team leader?
WM: He was extremely driven. He wanted to be the best, from day one. Number two: he was a leader, but he respected people who were older than him, and they respected him, and that was a smart way to be integrated into [the team].
Everybody liked Kerry. So while he was driven, he was respectful, therefore, he was relaxed and at ease, and therefore he appeared laid-back, even though he was intense.
Kerry was the kind of guy who loved skiing so much, he never had a bad day. Even when he had a poorer performance than he and other people expected, he would smile, give an explanation for what happened, smile, shake your hand, and say, “Let’s go ski. Let’s go have some fun. Let’s move on. I’m done with that.”
FS: Was there ever any sense of ambivalence about doping in the [ski] community back then?
WM: Great question. It was something that we never thought about. It wasn’t a tool that we considered, because it was on nobody’s radar in the early- to mid-70’s. The late 70’s, or early 80’s, when I was competing. I know there was the blood doping thing with Kerry. In cross-country skiing, there was a lady from Finland named Marja-Liisa Hämäläinen [She later married Harri Kirvesniemi, who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs at the 2001 World Championships in Lahti, Finland.], and her nickname became Marja-Liisa Hemoglobin. She was a multi-time world champion and Olympic champion. And in the 80’s, people were starting to talk about different feeds—actually, as early as 1976 [Olympics] in Innsbruck, at the cross-country events. People were thinking about putting coke syrup in their feeds that would increase their sugar content, that would increase your body’s access to material that you could burn for energy very quickly.
You know, that kind of stuff in nordic combined, because it was a 15-kilometer event, it really didn’t work its way down. That was because I, as a U.S. athlete, was totally naïve. Our coaches didn’t think about it; we as athletes didn’t think about it. But in the early 80’s, people started opening their eyes. In biking, in foot running…it really became apparent that people were blood doping. And that was part of the sport.
And my feeling, friendship with Kerry aside…I respect Kerry, and I think that he must have gleaned that it was part of the sport, that everybody else was doing, and that…physically, it wasn’t like steroids, that it altered your body. It was just your blood being added to your blood—so what’s wrong with that?
I kind of look at that, and…it’s like lifting weights. You’ve got to do what you have to do to be competitive. And if everyone else is going to do it, and no one is testing for it, then it’s part of the game. And I can totally understand that.
It was not something that I had to consider, so I didn’t. And it was because I was naïve. If I had been competing in the 80’s, it would have been a very big decision that I would have had to consider, but I didn’t.
FS: If you look at the 1984 U.S. Olympic cycling team, about a third of those men—and women—blood doped. [Sports Illustrated, 21 January 1985, “Triumphs Tainted with Blood; ” authors Bjarne Rostaing; Robert Sullivan]
WM: That shows that there are two sides to that story. While I respect Kerry, he and whoever else was involved with it made a bad decision. And here’s the reason why.
Because when it comes out and you’re exposed, then it does some very bad things for the public image of the sport. Is that all that goes into the decision? Hell, no. You have to think about what’s fair. And therefore, it becomes a very personal decision. I kind of have to be totally honest with you. I don’t know what I would have done. I would have liked to have thought that I could have been a world-class competitor without doing things that were forbidden by the rules. But I can’t tell you that that’s the decision that I would have made.
What I will say is that if I could be honest with you, and say that I could make that decision, it’s probably because I wasn’t committed as much as other athletes to being the best in the world. Another caveat: because [nordic combined] was not something that I was basing my life upon—it was something I did while I went to school; it was something that I did while I was becoming an adult—it wasn’t something that defined me. It wasn’t something that I did with professional consideration. It wasn’t something that I was trying to make my mark, for the rest of my life, doing. If I had been more dedicated to making a mark for myself with my skiing career, it would have changed the way that I looked at that decision.
FS: How do you feel about somebody with this background or history coaching kids that are coming up?
WM: I’ve thought about that for a long time. If I didn’t know the person, it would take me longer to figure out my answer to that. But because I know Kerry Lynch, I’m totally [comfortable with him] coaching kids. And I would say the same thing about any other athlete that you ask me that question about. If I know a guy or a gal, I’ll tell you, ‘yes, I feel comfortable, because that person has the morals, and the ethics and the principles to be a good junior coach.’
Kerry Lynch is not celebrating performance; he’s celebrating participation, and moving [athletes] from one level to the next, to best of their abilities. And that’s the kind of coach I want my kids to have.
But if you ask me about another athlete that took steroids—Kerry’s experience has taught me that it’s the person’s morals, the person’s principles, rather than a one-time event, that help me make an opinion about somebody. So if you ask me, would I want Barry Bonds [coaching]–it’s a different scenario, right? That’s how I’d make the decision.
Is it clear that I think that Kerry Lynch is someone who should be working with development level skiers? I don’t think you’re going to find someone better than Kerry Lynch. I don’t know how I can be any more clear than that.