Tony took more readily to outdoor skating, in which he makes up for his lack of finesse in the corners with an explosive start in the sprints, bursts of power on the straightaways and endurance in the longer races. He won his first gold at the world championships in Colorado Springs in 1985 in the 10,000 meters. Earlier that year, he and Dante had been paired in the two-man 5,000-meter relay at the indoor nationals, but rather than pacing themselves against the pack, they went all out from the start, lowering the national record for the distance from 9:01 to 8:57.
Dante's meteoric rise nearly fizzled in 1986, when he was involved in a dispute with the USAC/RS. During the 10,000 at the Outdoor National Banked Track Championships in Colorado Springs that year, Dante and another skater received warnings from the referees for elbowing. The next time around, says Dante, the other skater "smashed me into the rail and elbowed me in the face." In a fit of pique, Dante chased the other skater down and tripped him.
Dante was disqualified from the race, and three weeks later got a letter from the USAC/RS; he had been suspended for six months. That meant he would miss the qualifying trials for the 1987 Pan Am Games and the world championships. Dante appealed, unsuccessfully. After two months, Dante and Ramona made the 12-hour drive to U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs, where Dante told his side of the incident to Ron Rowan, general counsel to the USOC, which mediates between the governing bodies of Class-A sports and the athletes. Two weeks before the suspension would have ended, and a few days before the qualifying trials for the Pan Ams, the USAC/RS lifted the suspension. But not because Dante was exonerated, according to George Pickard, the USAC/RS's executive director. "It was a technicality," he says. "The USOC said our due process was flawed."
Dante, who went on to win a gold and two silvers at the Pan Ams and to come in second overall at the worlds, was less troubled by his reprimand than by the severity of his punishment, especially in view of the degree of contact usually tolerated in international competition. Skaters jostle each other, which is legal, and there's a fair amount of grabbing and shoving, although such infractions often go uncalled. "It's not nicey-nicey out there," says Dante. "It doesn't come down to who's fastest. It comes down to strategy."
Basically, the tactics of international racing require that two members of a three-man team sacrifice their own races so a teammate can win. In longer races, where pacing is important, skaters line up one right behind the other to draft, much the way bicyclists do. This means, of course, that the skater at the head of the line is working harder than the rest. According to strategy, the team sacrificial lamb, called the domestique, a term borrowed from French bicyclists, maneuvers through the pack while his teammates behind him save their strength. In the last few laps the domestique and the third teammate lead the designated winner to the front and run interference so he can sprint past them to the finish.
For all their sibling rivalry, the Muses are a formidable team. At last year's world championships, for example, Tony played domestique in the 5,000, leading Dante through the pack for most of the race while their teammate, Mike Mueller, followed as best he could. With three laps to go, Dante passed his exhausted brother and moved up behind the three front-runners, all Italians, and then sprinted around the outside into third place behind Patrizio Sarto, the Italian team's designated winner. At the bell lap the lead skater, Tomaso Rossi, the Italian team's domestique, moved to the outside to let Sarto pass him. Dante followed Sarto, whereupon Rossi grabbed Dante, allowing Sarto to sprint ahead. Dante shook Rossi off and caught up to Sarto. On the final curve he slipped to the Italian's inside and sprinted to a 20-foot lead to win the race.
"The Muse brothers are the only ones to use tactics similar to ours," says Sarto's teammate Galiazzo. "Perhaps the fact that the Muses are brothers sets them apart. They are clever and ready to sacrifice themselves for each other."
Tony reveals that he and Dante also have a secret weapon: elftalk, a children's language something like pig Latin, but with the word elf thrown in before every vowel (for example, the word skater would be pronounced skelfatelfer. Mark taught it to his brothers years ago, and the three of them can rattle on in elftalk as rapidly as in English. "We used to talk strategy at the starting line," says Dante, "and the Italians all knew what we were saying. Then we started using elftalk, and one of the Italians said, 'No. No good for Italy.' "
It's late afternoon, time for the two brothers to head over to Skate East for practice. Tony insists on taking a shower after his bicycle ride, so the two skaters arrive at the rink half an hour late. Mark glares at his younger brothers. Dante ducks his head sheepishly, but Tony just smiles, cherubically.
As they lace up their skates, Tony glances at his brother and says, sotto voce, to a visitor, "I've won before against Dante. But for some reason, I use up my energy before we get down to the final sprint. There's something stopping me. It's upstairs in my mind. What really stinks is that Dante knows it. I think I could beat anybody in the world if there wasn't Dante."