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Kristie Phillips, Champion Gymnast
Mark Beech
November 16, 1998
September 1, 1986
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November 16, 1998

Kristie Phillips, Champion Gymnast

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September 1, 1986

Officially, It was a reverse planche. To Kristie Phillips, however, her pose for SI's cover was simply "the butt-on-the-head move." The 14-year-old, 78-pound gymnast told SI she couldn't remember a time when she wasn't able to bend all the way over backward. Now Phillips, 26, says she can't get her head anywhere near her derriere. "It hurts to look at it," she says of that cover. "My back just doesn't bend the same way anymore."

In the fall of 1986 Phillips was poised to become the next superstar of U.S. gymnastics. That year she won all-around titles at the American Cup, the junior nationals and the U.S. Olympic Festival. She had the coach, Bela Karolyi, the natural showmanship and the irrepressible, Wheaties-box smile of her idol, 1984 Olympic heroine Mary Lou Retton. Two years later, however, instead of doing handsprings down Madison Avenue with Olympic gold around her neck, she was out of competitive gymnastics.

Phillips won the U.S. all-around title in June 1987 but finished 45th at the worlds that fall. As she grew she lost some of her flexibility and began to struggle with her weight and conditioning. She finished eighth at the '88 Olympic trials and as the second alternate on the U.S. team didn't compete in Seoul. After the Games she hung up her bar grips for good and returned to her family in Baton Rouge.

After spending three years at LSU on a cheerleading scholarship, Phillips moved to New York City to take up acting. She quickly landed a Delta Airlines commercial, then in 1994 won the lead in the action-adventure Spitfire, playing a martial arts expert. She works as a stunt double, most recently in last summer's comedy Mafia!, and has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman as a pair of dancing pants. "I'm not shy about being in front of the camera," she says. "I find I can do things I didn't think I could."

When not working in films, Phillips choreographs routines for gymnasts near her home in Asbury Park, N.J., where she lives with her husband, singer-songwriter Horatio Thomas. Though she is removed from gymnastics, the reverse planche is still known on the circuit as the Phillips. "I always wondered, What if I had gotten everything?" she says of winning Olympic gold and reaping its rewards. "I wouldn't know what it takes to make it in the world. I love my life. I wouldn't have had it any other way."

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