They still room together on the World Cup Circuit and are constantly together during the months of traveling, but when they return to Yakima they're apart much of the time. Phil was divorced two years ago and lives in a poster-bedecked bachelor pad with two pals, while Steve, Debbie and their new daughter, Ginger, live in a modern bungalow in a neighborhood of suburban young marrieds. However, the Mahres have bought big, neighboring parcels of land in the Yakima Valley. They spent sunrise to sunset there every day during the off-season, building, with their own hands, a very ambitious two-story house for Phil. "We liked working on it so much that it was almost hard to get skiing again," says Phil. "I can't wait to get back at it. I'm going to spend the winter reading books about plumbing and electricity."
Though technically the Mahres are amateurs, they have made a fair amount of money, very likely more than $100,000 annually as "expense" money from sponsors. But they could make a lot more if they were willing to let themselves be merchandised more aggressively. However, that just doesn't seem to fit into the Mahres' view of the American Dream.
"Fame and glory aren't something we really like much," says Steve. "We haven't sought a lot of money. We'll take an endorsement here and there, but we won't go for a million dollars or anything like that."
Adds Phil, "I'd probably be just as happy flat broke. It's real difficult for us to think of being like a Bruce Jenner. I think you participate in a sport because it's fun, because you excel at it, because you like doing it. That's your goal, I always thought. Bruce Jenner's primary goal, I think, was to get rich. I think that's what motivated him to win his gold medal—money."
The twins use K2 skis, Lange boots and Marker bindings (all products manufactured by American-based companies). They haven't changed brands in the eight years they've been on the U.S. Ski Team. "We could have had a bidding thing every season to get more money," Phil says, "but we've had such a good relationship with these companies there's no reason to change. And we're kind of patriotic, too. We like to stay with American products."
Well, this sort of thing goes on and on. These are genuinely clean-cut, genuinely modest, genuinely nice fellows. Self-effacing, not money-oriented, loyal to old associates, patriotic? Can athletes in the 1980s be like that?
In a word—yes. And here's more proof. The scene was a slalom course in Borovets, Bulgaria, on a damp day at the end of last March. It was the next to the last race of the World Cup season, and the event was fraught with drama. If Phil finished second or better, he would beat Stenmark, then the leader in points, for the overall World Cup. However, if Stenmark won the race and Phil was 16th or worse, Stenmark would add five points to his lead. As the race began, the course was wet and beginning to break up. Steve was the first racer out of the gate in the first run and he turned in a splendid time—the best of the run, it would turn out. Phil and Stenmark started near the end of the first 15 seeded racers, and both finished well behind Steve. In the second run Steve blasted down the course and wound up second to Zhirov. Phil, with a superhuman effort, came in third, but because his twin had finished ahead of him, he failed to clinch the cup. The citizens of world ski racing stood at the finish, aghast, appalled, amazed. Steve had prevented his brother from winning the most coveted prize in skiing. Phil recalls that strange day: "The Europeans couldn't believe it. They couldn't understand why Steve hadn't folded up and let me go ahead of him. They all remembered 1975 when Gustavo Thoeni [the Italian who won four World Cups] had a chance to beat Ingemar for the cup in the last race of the season. It was a head-to-head dual slalom. Everyone on the Italian team went in the tank when they raced Gustavo. Sure, Gustavo won, but it was a cheap victory, to our way of thinking. If Steve had lost to me on purpose, that would have made it a cheap trophy for me, too." Steve adds, "They couldn't understand that. But we're a lot happier skiing like we did. It was true competition." Fortunately, three days later Phil finished second in a GS at Laax, Switzerland and clinched the cup.
This pure approach to sport is appreciated more widely than might be expected. Karl Kahr, the coach of the vaunted Austrian team, is a tough, pragmatic fellow, yet he recalls with a glint of admiration, "I was in Borovets when Steve skied off with the points that would have sealed the World Cup for Phil. But that day was very typical of the Mahre brothers. Those two boys are into sports, not politics."
So they go on—always together. You can watch them slowly climbing a slalom course side by side, discussing the set of each gate with the concentration of chess masters. You can see them in early morning moonlight setting their own slalom poles for a series of training runs. You can see one at the finish, quick to grab a walkie-talkie to tell the other of a bad spot on the course. Always together, like one person.
They definitely plan to continue skiing until the 1984 Olympics—well, maybe not definitely. "We don't really take skiing as seriously as most Europeans," Phil says. "We could be here today and gone tomorrow if we thought there was something more important."