FEBRUARY 6, 1984
When skiers Tamara McKinney and Phil Mahre flanked figure skaters Scott Hamilton and Rosalynn Sumners on the cover of SI's 1984 Winter Olympic Preview issue, they seemed the bookends of a perfectly balanced set. All four were Americans, all four were reigning world champions and all four were contenders to win gold medals at the Sarajevo Games. There was just one problem: Only three were the same height. At 5'9", Mahre stood six inches taller than his covermates. "I'm actually standing on New York City telephone books," says McKinney. "They wanted the skiers taller than the skaters to give the picture symmetry."
That photo shoot was surely the only time in their careers that Mahre or McKinney needed any trickery to rise above the crowd. Each earned an overall World Cup crown in 1983, and between them they won 45 races on the international circuit. For Mahre, the most decorated ski racer in U.S. history, the '83 title was his third in a row, while it was McKinney's only one. Eighteen years later they remain the sole American man and woman to win the overall.
Mahre is best known, though, for his Olympic slalom triumphs. After getting a silver medal in the event at the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, he carved his legacy into the snow on Mount Bjela?nica four years later, winning the gold medal by schussing across the finish line .21 of a second ahead of his twin brother, Steve, who got the silver. After the race, which was one of his last before he retired, Phil learned that his wife, Holly, had just given birth to their son, Alexander, in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I couldn't tell you the date of any win I've ever had with the exception of that one," says the 44-year-old Mahre. "My son's birthday reminds me of the gold medal, not the other way around."
For all McKinney's success in the World Cup series, she was never able to muster an Olympic victory. In three Games, from 1980 to '88, she won no medals, falling in four of her six races and getting disqualified from a fifth—the slalom in '84—for missing a gate. "I'd be so wound up and excited that I'd turn into a spider on a hot plate," she says. "I did my best. That's how I look at it. In America, I get so tired of people consoling me. I enjoy going to Europe because they're more excited about all those World Cup races I won."
Since she retired from competition not long after winning the combined world championship in Vail in 1989, McKinney, 39, has been living in Squaw Valley, Calif., where she'd skied with her family as a child. The youngest of eight children, she learned the sport from her mother, Frances, a ski instructor who began taking Tamara to the slopes before she could walk. "She'd bring along this suitcase with pillows and blankets and leave me in the lift shack," McKinney says. "She'd tell the lift operators and my brothers and sisters to keep an eye on me while she was teaching."
Tamara's father, Rigan, was a champion steeplechase jockey, and so after spending winters on the slopes, Tamara idled her childhood summers away on the bluegrass of Stony Point farm in Lexington, Ky. The farm, which houses thoroughbreds and broodmares, is now run by her older sister Laura. When she can, Tamara returns there with her four-year-old daughter, Francesca, whom she is raising as a single mother. "I came to be in Squaw Valley through my skiing, and I stay here for that," says McKinney, who lost her father after a stroke and her mother to cancer in the late 1980s, while both her brothers died around the same time. (One, McLane, committed suicide; the other, speed skier Steve, died in an auto accident.) "But I miss my family."
For his part, Mahre has stayed put in his home state of Washington. He removed himself almost completely from competitive skiing for several years and stayed in Yakima to focus on raising his family, which, in addition to Alex, includes Lindsey, 19, and Zach, 13. Over the past decade Phil and Steve have pursued careers as race car drivers, first buying two Trans-Am cars and most recently becoming involved in go-kart competition. They are currently searching for sponsorship to keep driving. "If you think skiing's expensive," says Phil, "try motor sports."
In the past four years both McKinney and Mahre have turned to coaching, she with the Squaw Valley junior racing team and he as a mentor for young racers in the U.S. ski program. "I still have a passion and love for the sport, so I stay in it," he says. "Most kids who are 13 or 14 are clueless as to who I am, which is kind of nice. I have a lot of fun with them."
Mahre and McKinney also make appearances at corporate ski outings, and Mahre does promotional work for several ski companies. They see each other at a few events each year, as they did in passing last month in Park City, Utah. "Phil and Steve were like my brothers," says McKinney. "I love that camaraderie."