On a hot September afternoon, the members of the French women's ski team could be found relaxing at a water park near Nice. The team had gathered for a week of training in the south of France, a venue that will never be mistaken for, say, Parris Island. Malgorzata Tlalka Mogore, a slalom racer, wants it understood, however, that the team has been training seriously. "We worked out hard in the morning, for two hours." says Malgorzata. "It is not all fun and games."
This also accurately describes the recent tumultuous past for Malgorzata and her twin sister, Dorota, another slalom specialist. In 1985 they decided to leave their native Poland because they felt outdated training methods had arrested their skiing development. Today they, with Super G specialist Catherine Quittet and slalom specialist Patricia Chauvet, are France's best hopes for a skiing medal in Calgary.
It hasn't been easy for the 24-year-old sisters. They have had to adjust to the customs of a new land, a new language and a new life that includes marriages to French brothers. Dorota married for love, Malgorzata out of expediency. They also had to battle their way back in the Fédération Internationale de Ski's rankings after being penalized for changing national federations. Having plummeted to 57th and 65th place in the slalom, Dorota and Malgorzata stand 16th and 13th, respectively, rankings that reflect the parallel development of their careers; you will discover that these twins are nothing if not twinlike. And they are still dealing with the angst of leaving their family and their friends and with their memories of a happy childhood in Poland.
"I'm not sure either of us could have done it without the other." says Dorota. In truth, the twins don't know what one could do without the other, for the longest they've ever been separated—womb to slopes—is three weeks. Even now, Malgorzata (Margot to her French teammates) shares a house with Dorota and her sister's husband, Christian Mogore, in the village of Uriage-Les-Bains, six miles from Grenoble. (Margot's husband, Christophe, lives in Grenoble.) The twins' relationship is like that of a husband and wife who go to the office together: yet—don't forget—they are also competitors. One wonders if they ever tire of each other.
Margot looks at her sister and chucks her under the chin. "Not yet." she says, smiling.
The Tlalka (tlow-ka) sisters were born into an athletic family on April 27, 1963, Dorota five minutes earlier than Margot. Their father, Jan, won 16 Polish speed skating championships, while their mother, Wlada, was an excellent cross-country skier. The twins grew up in the town of Zakopane, in the Tatra Mountains of southern Poland. The Tlalka sisters learned to skate and ski while very young. "Born on skis, die on skis." says Margot. When they were 12, they abandoned their father's sport to concentrate on the slopes.
"Skiing is very popular in Poland, but there have never been great champions," says Margot. "So you do not feel pressure. When my sister and I started to do well, there was—how should I say it?—a great explosion of happiness from the people." She confers with Dorota in Polish. "And when we didn't have a good race, when we lost, it was not a great national deception." Disaster? "Yes, disaster, that is it."
The Tlalkas first slalomed onto the international scene in a World Cup race in Austria in 1981 when, after one run, Dorota stood first and Margot third. On the second run, they went off the course at the same point, which might be expected of twins. While preparing for the 1982 world championships (where Dorota surprised everyone with a fourth-place finish), they were interviewed by Christian Mogore, the ski reporter from Le Dauphiné Libéré, one of France's largest newspapers. Dorota and Christian's meeting ignited sparks and the relationship grew. But by 1985, the twins had a more pressing concern: how to resuscitate their careers. "We were standing still," says Dorota. "We wanted something different in our training techniques. We tried to discuss it with our trainer, but he didn't want to hear about it."
The trainer, Andrzej Kozak, according to others besides the twins, is not a man of compromise. "He is a member of the Party and he built a political atmosphere around everything," says Margot. "He began to mix up skiing and politics. He wanted to control us."
Some factors Kozak could do nothing about. The twins wanted year-round training; Poland has no glacier. The twins wanted better equipment; Poland has only one factory that manufactures ski equipment. "And we had no—how would you call it?—sparring partners except each other," says Dorota.