Mahre, Phil(lip)

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MAHRE, Phil(lip)

(b. 10 May 1957 in Yakima, Washington), the most successful U.S. male Alpine skier in history.

Mahre is one of nine children born to David Mahre and Mary Ellen Chotl Mahre, a homemaker. He was born four minutes before his fraternal twin, Steven. In 1962 the Mahre family moved fifty-three miles from Yakima to the tiny Cascade Mountain town of White Pass, where Mahre's father became a manager of the local ski area. Living within walking distance of the ski lift, the Mahre twins spent much of their childhood on skis. At the age of eleven they began entering and winning regional ski competitions.

As a teenager Mahre commuted down the mountain with his twin to Naches Valley High School. There he played running back for the football team, taking handoffs from Steve, the quarterback. Both boys were good students. Mahre graduated as valedictorian, and Steve placed fifth out of a class of eighty-four students. The twins' parents sought to raise them in an environment that included academics and religion, in addition to sports and recreation. The Mahres were Roman Catholic and brought a priest to White Pass each week to celebrate mass. Parental enforcement of academic diligence helped the children to excel in school. Yet by the end of their high school careers, the twins' athletic talent was already too remarkable not to become a top priority. Instead of going to college, both young men chose to enter the World Cup skiing circuit.

Of the three events in World Cup competition at the time, the Mahres specialized in the slalom and giant slalom (GS) races, with less focus on the downhill. Throughout his career, Mahre was consistently a faster skier than his brother, but his first World Cup season ended early due to a broken leg. However, Mahre placed fifth in the Olympic GS the following year. In 1978 a second-place finish in the overall World Cup standings made him the highest-placing American ever. A broken ankle in 1979 destroyed his chances of winning the Cup and required the implant of a metal plate and three steel screws. Mahre's marriage to a high school sweetheart ended badly in the same year; they had been married just over a year when they divorced in October.

The 1980 winter games in Lake Placid, New York, brought Mahre his first Olympic medal—a silver in the slalom. He also placed tenth in the giant slalom and fourteenth in the downhill. Mahre was back on the World Cup circuit in 1981, striving to become the first American to win an overall title. Toward the end of the season at an event in Borovetz, Bulgaria, Mahre needed to place second in the slalom in order to secure the title, but his brother finished ahead of him, bumping him down to third. Mahre won the overall World Cup title the following week in Laax, Switzerland, with a second-place finish in giant slalom. After the race he credited his victory to his brother, and to the competition and comradeship between them. "That's what got me where I am today," Mahre told the New York Times. "Maybe I would have gotten there, but maybe I wouldn't have. It probably would have been a lot slower coming without him."

Mahre repeated his World Cup victory in 1981 and again in 1982. Years later in an interview with Ski Magazine, he described the 1982 victory as his career's crowning moment. Prior to that season, critics predicted that Mahre could not win the overall title without competing in the super G event—a new, controversial blend of downhill racing and giant slalom that he boycotted. He proved his critics wrong, however. "It came down to the last race of the season. It was [Ingemar] Stenmark, Max Julen and myself—whoever won the last GS would win the GS World Cup title." In fact, with this World Cup win, Mahre became the first man since Jean-Claude Killy to win four Alpine skiing titles in a single season.

Mahre won his first Olympic gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. His principal rival, Stenmark, had been disqualified from competition for violating a 1980 regulation banning direct payments to skiers from commercial sponsors. The Mahre brothers had legally complied with the regulation by channeling endorsements through the U.S. ski team. Mahre's slalom victory in Sarajevo was made sweeter by his brother's silver medal win in the slalom. Mahre's second wife, Holly, gave birth to their second child (of three) on the same day.

The Mahre brothers retired after the 1984 season, but returned to skiing in 1988 when $300,000–$500,000 in annual endorsements lured them to compete in the North American Pro Racing Tour. They had not been away from competition for long. In the previous year, both brothers had become race car drivers, alternately piloting the same Pontiac GTO. Their Reno team was the 1990 champion of the American Cities Racing League, the professional auto-racing series started in 1988 with teams from twelve western U.S. cities, and Mahre earned the league's individual title. Mahre was a pioneer for the United States in the world of Alpine skiing. In a sport historically dominated by Europeans, he was the first skier from the United States to win an overall World Cup title, which he did three times, in 1981, 1982, and 1983. With his slalom victory at the 1984 Winter Games, Mahre became the only American man ever to win an Olympic Gold medal in this event, and one of only three to win a gold medal in any Alpine skiing event. Mahre received attention not only for his consistent ability to win, but also for his competitive yet loving relationship with his brother. Today the twins teach skiers of all abilities at the Mahre Training Center in Keystone, Colorado.

"Skiing Double" and "Alpine Skiing: A Pair of Mahres" in the Washington Post Magazine (10 Feb. 1980 and 5 Feb. 1984), and "Sportspeople: Mahre Makes a Comeback" in the New York Times (1990), provide a great deal of factual and personal information on the Mahre brothers. See also "U.S. Chances Ride with the Mahres" in Newsweek (13 Feb. 1984), and "Going Out In Style" (27 Feb. 1984), which gives details on U.S. victories in the Sarajevo Olympics. "Ski Life: Gold-Medal Roundtable" in Ski Magazine (Jan. 2000) includes a recent but brief interview. "It's All Uphill from Here" and "Motorsports Almanac: 1990 Year in Review" in Autoweek (7 Mar. 1988 and 17 Dec. 1990) cover the Mahres' auto racing activities.

Valerie Linet