Jair Lynch pulled the Penn State cap over his head and pumped up the volume on his Walkman, concentrating hard now on Gang Starr singing "Take it Personal."
Around him, the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials were unfolding like a three-ringed circus at the Baltimore Arena last night. Old-timers were dropping from sight. Old reliables were soaring.
Lynch had just blown his routine on the horizontal bar, turning a handstand into the gymnastics equivalent of a timeout, and suddenly, he was a bobble away from tossing away a trip to Barcelona, Spain.
"I was thinking, 'Be aggressive,' " he said. "I was listening to the music. I was trying to focus my mind."
Rap music never sounded so good.
With one near-perfect vault that yielded a meet-high score of 9.90, Lynch moved one step closer to the 1992 Summer Olympics.
The 20-year-old Washington native who nurtured his skills training in Columbia, was fifth after the compulsories with a total of 82.206.
Today, he'll aim for a spot on the six-man Olympic team in the optional final.
"I've thought about this for a year," Lynch said. "But now that I'm here, I'm thinking about winning the meet. People say that all you have to think about is finishing in the top six. But I'm here to win."
It could happen.
Lynch is now one of the rising young stars of the American men's program, a Stanford University junior who is learning to cope with the stress of competition.
He gave the crowd something to cheer on the sixth and final rotation, turning a handspring with a half twist on the vault into an air show.
The landing was perfect. The score put him back in contention.
"I thought to myself, 'Just Do It,' " he said. "And I did."
Earlier, he didn't.
On the horizontal bar, he didn't gather enough momentum after a kip-up, and couldn't perform a handstand. Hung up, he had to start all over again, earning a 9.00.
"I came out flat over the top," he said. "I lost five-tenths of a point. You don't have time to feel stupid. You're just trying to finish."
In the past year, Lynch has learned to take nothing for granted in gymnastics. The Penn State cap symbolizes one of his defeats. In 1991, the Stanford men expected to win the NCAA team title at Penn State. They finished fifth.
"There is always the possibility of self-destructing," he said.
But Lynch said he won't feel the pressure today. He is trying to be part of a unique Maryland-D.C. Olympic triple. Last weekend, Tamara Levinson of Silver Spring secured a spot in rhythmic gymnastics. Today, Dominique Dawes of Silver Spring will try to secure a berth on the women's team. Tonight, Lynch will go for a spot on the men's team.
If he reaches Barcelona, he'll be only the second black man to represent the U.S. gymnastics team.
"It's important to me," he said. "I realize that I would be representing my country as well as my race at the Olympics. That would be an honor. Hopefully, other black children realize there is a potential to do something in this sport."
For Lynch, that potential could take him to the sport's greatest stage, if not now, then four years from now.
"I definitely want to go to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996," he said. "I'm only 20. My body is fine. Four more years and I'll be able to blossom."
Today, he just might win.