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For U.S. gymnast Lynch, the future is 'Now' Youngest member is key for team, blacks BARCELONA '92


BARCELONA, Spain -- The future of men's gymnastics in America stands 5 feet 4, weighs 130 pounds and will be on display today during the team compulsory competition at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

His name is Jair Lynch, and he is from Stanford University by way of Washington and Columbia, Md.

On a team that calls itself "The Now Boys," Lynch is the youngest and brightest of the miniature, muscular stars. At 20, he is attempting to vault into the big-time of men's gymnastics, if not this year, then by 1996.

Scott Keswick of Las Vegas is the American medal hope in rings. And John Roethlisberger, of Afton, Minn., is perhaps the country's steadiest performer.

But if the U.S. men are to break through and gain a team medal, Lynch will have to open the way, pumping up his score in the first compulsory round to set the stage for his older, more experienced teammates.

"I haven't been seen by a lot of these judges," Lynch said. "If the scores come up low, they come up low. You can't change what judges think. All you can do is try your best."

But Lynch is accustomed to breaking barriers. In a sport that appeals to the white, suburban middle class of America, Lynch stands out as the second black American gymnast to appear in the Olympics (the first was Charles Lakes in 1988).

Being thrust into the position of role model could be a burden for some, but not Lynch, a Stanford senior. He talks of the opportunities that should be available to other minority tumblers in America.

"It's important to me," he said. "I realize that I am representing my country as well as my race at the Olympics. That is an honor. Hopefully, other black children realize there is a potential to do something in this sport."

Lynch's potential was tapped at a young age. Sports have been part of his daily life, from forays in baseball and football, to a first taste of gym

nastics as a 12-year-old to four years of training at Gymnastics Plus in Columbia.

He comes from an extraordinary family. His father, Acklyn, an immigrant from Trinidad, is a professor of political science and African-American studies at the University of Maryland. His mother, Martha, born in Colombia, is an economic consultant. His sister, Pilar, attends NYU and dances with the Alvin Ailey company.

"I don't think I want to be compared to the Cosbys or the Huxtables," Lynch said. "But I think we've done well."

Lynch's ascent has been rapid. He placed seventh in the all-around at the 1991 World Sports Fair in Tokyo. He was fourth in the all-around at the U.S. men's trials in Baltimore.

"Before the trials, I didn't even know who Jair Lynch was," U.S. men's coach Francis Allen said. "He is a surprise and an asset. He represents the new generation of gymnastics in the U.S. He is the best pommel horse man we have. If he made the finals, he'd win the gold medal."

But like the rest of the U.S. men, Lynch is looking for respect. After an 11th-place team finish at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea, the American men have been on the rebound. Their fifth-place finish at last year's world championships in Indianapolis set the stage for their medal assault here in Barcelona.

The Unified Team and China are overwhelming favorites to claim the top two medals. But the Americans could contend for the bronze with the Japanese, Germans, Italians and South Koreans.

"People keep asking us about the 1984 team that won the gold at the Olympics," Lynch said. "And they ask us about the 1988 team that did so poorly. That's why we're calling ourselves 'The Now Boys.' We're tired of the comparisons. We have all said that we are ready to win now."

And Lynch said an American team medal would influence younger gymnasts for years to come.

"It would give everyone a lot of hope," he said. "It also might open the sport up to others, especially minorities. Young black kids would be able to see a sport they could do well in. As you get gyms closer to black people, you'll see more black gymnasts. And if you can't move the gyms closer, then you have to provide transportation for the kids to the gyms. Either way, I think you'll see more."

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