Olympic Champions with Silver & Gold
February 19, 2019
This pair of skiers are, no doubt, the most famous Washingtonians to win Olympic medals. It was on February 19, 1984 when the twin brothers slalomed to gold and silver, being the first siblings to compete and place in the same event.
Phil and Steve Mahre were born on May 10, 1957, in Yakima, Washington. They grew up at White Pass which, as fate would have it, tends to be buried under snow some six months each year. It was there they learned to ski. And learn they did. Phil – the oldest of the two by four minutes – won 27 World cup races during his career, the fourth highest number for an American.
It was, however, the dramatic competition in Sarajevo which cemented the twin’s legacy and also focused attention on the Pacific Northwest. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“At the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Mahre again medaled in the slalom, this time taking the gold while Steve won the silver for a Mahre twin 1–2 sweep. Steve had led the first of two runs, skiing flawlessly and building a large half-second lead over Swede Jonas Nilsson with Phil in third place, another two-tenths back. Phil skied a fine second run to grab the lead, then Nilsson skied next and faltered, dropping out of the medals. Steve skied down last, needing only a solid run to take the gold, but a series of mistakes dropped him into second place, and Phil became the Olympic champion. Meanwhile, unknown to the racers, Phil’s wife Holly had given birth to their second child, a son, in Arizona an hour before the race started. Phil did not find out about it until a TV interview after the race.
The Mahres won two of the five alpine skiing medals taken by Americans, all from the Northwest. Portland’s Bill Johnson (downhill) and Seattle’s Debbie Armstrong also won gold and Christin Cooper of Sun Valley took the silver for an American 1–2 finish in the women’s giant slalom.”
It was probably around 1974 when I first heard about the Mahre brothers. I had friends who went to school in Naches with the brothers. It was fun over the next nine years to follow their career and cheer for them in the Olympics. It was shortly after the 1984 gold-silver win when the brothers retired from competitive skiing, their spot in the history books cemented.
As I was working on this article I was reminded of a story told by a gal who grew up in Wenatchee and learned to ski at Mission Ridge. Rosemary was a few years older than I but we both worked in the telemarketing cube farm for Microsoft in the winter of 1983. She and I covered the west coast, me California and she the Pacific Northwest. What I most recall about her were her stories. It was always fun to listen to her tales of adventure as a single woman. And she was fearless. Despite the many things she had done, her persona was that of an airhead. Personally, I think it was all an act which she used to disarm people.
In the winter of 1983, Rosemary decided to join a Microsoft group that skied together. The ensemble consisted of a half dozen software programmers and her, the lone female. On one particular Monday in late January or February, she came in to work and related to me that she had gone skiing with the guys for the first time. She had ridden the lift to the top with one of the programmers and when they skied off the chair, the pair found themselves at the top of a slope filled with moguls.
Her fellow skier asked her if perhaps the black diamond run might be a bit difficult and would she like to try something easier?
“Oh no. I think I can handle it,” she replied, then said to him “Why don’t you go first.”
Which he did. And barely managed to stay upright as he picked his way down the bumpy slope. What happened next, according to Rosemary’s story, was epic. She adjusted her goggles, took firm control of her ski poles, and flew down the hill, attacking the moguls like a boss.
Her partner, still staring at her open mouthed as she swept up next to him at the bottom, managed to ask, “Where did you learn to ski like that?”
To which she replied “I was on the 1968 Olympic B team.”
Oh yes, there was so much more to Rosemary than met the eye.
Despite having grown up an hour’s drive from White Pass, I did not learn to ski until I was in my mid-20’s. In fact I took my first ski lessons in the early 1980’s. The hubby and I – along with his sister and Mom – spent several days at Whistler during the 1984 Olympics watching the events in Sarajevo in the evenings at a pub, cheering on the Mahre’s and the rest of the American’s in their quest for gold.
While I never once came close to skiing like either Phil or Steve Mahre or my co-worker Rosemary, I did have an appreciation and awe of what they could do with a pair of boards and a couple of sticks in the snow. I felt an incredible pride when, in February 1984, the twins from little ole Yakima, Washington, won Olympic silver and gold.
As always, a few links of interest:
Ted Ligety won two gold medals, 8 years apart… his 2014 Medal was also won on February 19! Although Bill Johnson also won gold in 1984, his medal was won on February 15, four days earlier than Phil Mahre.