While Jair Lynch was excelling at math and science at Sidwell Friends School, he also was becoming one of the best schoolboy gymnasts in the nation. He was doing it against limited competition while working under coaches who could contain and direct his talent.

Now Lynch is across the country at Stanford University and he's no longer alone at the top; he is in the midst of a scrambling crowd of young, proficient gymnasts, vying to be the best in the country and the world. Still, he has continued to excel and this spring led an injury-riddled Stanford team to its first NCAA title in 16 years.

Freshman Lynch finished sixth in the high bar, making all-American, and 13th in the all-around competition, as well as eighth in the optionals and seventh on the pommel horse. This summer he won the junior men's division (19 and under) at the U.S. championships, taking first in the all-around, pommel horse, parallel bars and floor exercise, and finishing second on the high bar.

But that was kid's stuff. At the urging of Coach Sadao Hamada, Lynch has stayed at Stanford this summer, except for a three-week visit home last month, to train six hours a day. He's trying to improve his strength and ultimately to qualify for the world championships next year.

"That's why he didn't come home for the {entire} summer and he only came home for eight days during Christmas," said his father, Acklyn, a professor of African American Studies at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. "It's not like football or basketball, where they come home after the season ends. We didn't realize it wouldn't be an ordinary life. In gymnastics you have to train year-round if you want to compete on the international level."

Lynch began in ordinary fashion, wanting to play football or basketball, "as you can imagine any black kid in the city wants to," his father said. But Jair was too small for those sports and, when trying gymnastics one day at the Silver Spring YMCA, he displayed extraordinary potential. The coach there said Lynch needed more advanced training, so he moved from team to team, finding coaches who could keep up with his development.

"It's a little difficult finding teams in the area, especially since Jair was progressing at such an incredible level," said Lynch's former coach, Dale Dembrow, who now has his own team in California. "It's one thing to teach the very basics and another to follow them through to another level, the elite competitive skills. It's very difficult to find a coach who can do that. You usually get one or the other."

Dembrow coached Lynch in 1983-87 in a small boys' program with MarVaTeens and once told Lynch's father that his son would one day be a world champion. He has had a chance to see his former pupil compete a number of times this year and stands by his earlier observation.

"There's no question about it," said Dembrow. "The sky's the limit and personally, from my trained eye, I think he's on the right track." In the 1991 world championships "you might just see him crack that egg. He's far superior to anything in the U.S. now and he just hasn't put it all together yet. But it's going to happen. It's a matter of can he do what he's capable of doing."

Each day in college gymnastics, Lynch performs to his limits. The challenge of the increasingly difficult movements is what sets gymnastics apart from other sports, he said. And in college the tricks are more difficult than before. So going to college is just like starting over. The gymnast is the little kid again who dares himself, shaking and uncertain, to try something harder and scarier.

"The degree of difficulty goes up tremendously in college," said Lynch, 18, taking a few minutes off from his job as gate guard at the Stanford swimming pool. "And you realize you'd better do the big tricks or be left behind. It's a matter of catching up or falling behind."

In college the added burden of team expectations can weigh heavily, especially if injuries eliminate the top scorers and a freshman is called on to assume more than his share. Early in the season two of the team's top scorers were sidelined with injuries. As last season progressed first one, then the other dropped out. Lynch, by default and demand, became one of the top three scorers on the team. That took its toll.

"I felt a lot of pressure and I wasn't competing the way I wanted to," he said. "The college level is completely different because of the team concept. And if you're put up last in the lineup you're expected to score the highest for the team. Having the team count on you and depend on you is more difficult than competing as an individual. But it's still just you out there. Six compete and five count for the team scoring. If someone misses, then the next five have to count. You have to perform at your highest level for the team."

Lynch performed beyond all expectations last season and was the best gymnast in the Pac-10. But he's not satisfied.

"I feel I want to do it all now. There's no reason to wait, to go slow. One way to go is to go fast and hard. Some people come in at a certain level and explode and go to incredible heights by the time they're a senior. It depends on that person."

Lynch intends to be that person.