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Double Trouble On The Slopes
William Oscar Johnson
January 18, 1982
The Mahre twins look and ski alike: Phil's the world's best, Steve's not far behind
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January 18, 1982

Double Trouble On The Slopes

The Mahre twins look and ski alike: Phil's the world's best, Steve's not far behind

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Will Phil? Will Steve? The odds are against them, of course. Yet their odds are enhanced because they're really sort of a double entry, although they insist they don't like being depicted as ganging up on the competition. Says Phil, "We don't consider it the twins versus Stenmark. It's Steve versus Stenmark and Phil versus Stenmark. We help each other whenever we can. But we're racing against each other, too."

Of course. But there is a oneness about them, a unity that has a powerful genetic bond, a conjunction of minds and bodies and souls that certainly had its genesis during the long and mysterious months when they shared their mother's womb. Steve puts it this way: "It's like he's a part of me. When I'm not doing well, I want him to do well. At the Olympics, I ended up falling, but knowing that he was ahead after the first run made me feel great. Almost as if it were me." Not surprisingly, Phil puts it almost exactly the same way: "It's sometimes like he's an extension of myself. When Steve wins, it's almost like a victory for me. It just doesn't feel as if I've been beaten when he wins. So if I can't win, I want him to win."

Twins always have been the subject of myth and superstition—and not always sunny myths or fun superstitions at that. According to Amram Scheinfeld's 1967 book, Twins and Supertwins, the Kaffirs of Southern Africa were said to have believed that twins could be produced only by two men; thus, any mother of twins was automatically branded an adulteress and spent the rest of her life in disgrace. Some American Indians, such as the Zuni, scorned twins and supertwins (more than two babies at one birth) because they resembled litters of lower animals. Primitive nomads such as Eskimos, the Ainu of Japan and Australian aborigines routinely murdered one or both twins largely because of the difficulty encountered by mothers carrying two babies on long treks.

The mythology of twins isn't quite so bleak. The Greeks believed that two of their most admirable deities, Castor and Pollux, were handsome and dashing twin sons of Zeus and Leda, and they eventually took their place in the heavens as the brightest stars in the constellation Gemini. Mojave Indians believed that the creation of the world was aided by twin-brother gods. In a lighter vein there have been Lewis Carroll's droll twosome in Through the Looking Glass—Tweedledum and Tweedledee—and the Bobbsey Twins, the Katzenjammer Kids, the Doublemint Twins and the Gold Dust Twins.

Some of lore's and literature's most famous tales of twins are fraught with conflict. The Old Testament story of Jacob and Esau, twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, tells of a near-mortal battle in their mother's womb over who would emerge as the firstborn. Esau won. Jacob, with his mother's connivance, later tricked his twin out of his birthright. Then there were Romulus and Remus, who were suckled together as babies by a she-wolf. As men they quarreled fiercely over which had been born first and, thus, had the right to found his own city. Remus was murdered by Romulus, who then named his new town Rome after himself.

Although these are myths, there's apparently more than a grain of truth to the theme of conflict between twins. Donald M. Keith, 46, executive director of the Center for Study of Multiple Birth in Chicago and an identical twin himself, says, "There's often a tendency toward unhealthy competition between twins. If twins can't accept each other as individuals and one tries to remold the other twin in his own image, conflict occurs. My brother and I argued and fought until we were 28 years old. Then each of us realized he could accept the other for what he was, that each of us was his own man."

Experts don't contend that there is always friction between twins. Thomas J. Bouchard Jr., a psychologist at the University of Minnesota who is doing a study of twins who have been raised apart, says, "There's no constant pattern to the behavior of twins anymore than there is for singletons. Some twins compete and compete with each other, driving each other, pushing each other. Others take deliberately opposite routes so as not to compete with each other—or to be compared with each other."

Ah, yes—to avoid being compared with each other. Here, it seems, lies the crux of the trouble in twinship. Keith speaks with a passion that clearly reflects grim personal experience: "There's always such an intense public curiosity about twins. People are always standing them up, staring at them, comparing them to one another. We want to scream, 'Hey! Stop comparing us! I am me and he is he. Take us separately.' I don't think there's a twin alive who doesn't bear deep psychological scars from being a twin."

Nonetheless, no one is suggesting that the closeness of twins is always an obstacle to success. In many cases, it is quite the contrary.

"Twins can become a great help to each other," Keith continues. "Like the Mahre brothers. In my opinion their accommodation of their twinship has made them absolutely synergistic. They function together in a way that makes the two of them greater than the sum of their parts."

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