Olympic glory 26 years later
Four athletes from Washington won half of the American team's medals at Sarajevo during the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Where are they now?Rosalynn Sumners
Age 45. Resides: Kirkland and Palm Springs. Raised in Edmonds. Attended Meadowdale High School
Silver medal, 1984 Olympics; world champion, 1983. Three-time United States national champion, 1982-84. Spent 13 seasons skating professionally with Stars on Ice tour, and did extensive television commentary.
• Owns and operates two adjoining stores in downtown Kirkland: Bella Tesori (home décor, custom furniture) and Bella Bambina (clothing and other items for babies and small children).
Age 52. Resides: Yakima. Attended Naches High School
Gold medal, 1984 Olympics, slalom; silver medal, 1980 Olympics, slalom. World Cup overall champion, 1981-83. Mounted comeback in 2006, at age 49, with goal of qualifying for U.S. Nationals, but was stymied by knee injury.
• Operates Mahre Training Center in Deer Valley, Utah, with Steve in winter, and does corporate outings and speaking appearances
Age 52 (born four minutes after Phil). Resides: Yakima. Attended Naches High School
Silver medal, 1984 Olympics, slalom. Had nine World Cup victories and was third overall in 1982. Won gold medal in giant slalom at 1982 World Championships in Austria.
• Operates Mahre Training Center in Deer Valley, Utah, with Phil in winter, and does corporate outings and speaking appearances
Age 46. Resides: Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Attended Garfield High School
Gold medal, 1984 Olympics, giant slalom, becoming first American woman to win gold in skiing since 1952. Had 18 top 10 finishes in World Cup career.
• Alpine Technical Director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, Steamboat Springs, Colo.
In 2004, had health scare, spent 12 days in ICU at Swedish Medical Center, six of those in medically induced coma, from complications from a tick bite leading to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. "I'm 100 percent recovered," she said.
Her moment in the spotlight lasted a few scant minutes. Their achievements were measured by fractions of seconds. Yet their legacy has been timeless. P Nearly 26 years ago, the U.S. Winter Olympic team in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, was dominated by four precocious young athletes from the state of Washington.
Skiers Phil Mahre and Debbie Armstrong came away with gold medals. Phil's twin brother, Steve, and figure skater Rosalynn Sumners left with silvers, both losing gold by infinitesimal margins.
That Evergreen quartet accounted for half of the eight medals won by the U.S. delegation. And as the 2010 Winter Games approach less than two months from now in Vancouver, B.C., those Olympian moments on the ice and snow still loom large in their lives.
They insist they haven't allowed what happened more than a quarter-century ago to define them. Yet they still can't help but see themselves — and invariably be seen by others — through the prism of their Olympic success or failure. A stunning upset for Armstrong on snow contrasts with the bitter disappointment of Sumners on ice. And one Mahre twin's golden moment was the other's agonizing near-miss.
Scratch just below the surface with the right question, and you can find those moments, still powder fresh.
"It's there forever," said Phil Mahre, now 52 and living in Yakima — near Steve, as always. "You know if you're ever having a bad time, you plug in the tape and you're a gold medalist, and you feel great again."
Phil can't resist a good-natured brotherly needle.
"Steve, on the other hand, is always a silver medalist. It's kind of a bummer for him."
Responds Steve, equally good-natured: "He gets to rub that in. It's so funny — I can watch the race and say, 'Maybe this time I'll win.' But, no, I still don't win."
Phil refuses to let others categorize him because of his Olympic achievement.
"I can't base my life on a minute and 40 seconds," he said. "It's something I'll always cherish and I'll always have, but it doesn't define me. It's not who I am, per se. But I learned a lot of life's lessons throughout my career that I've been able to put into everyday life."
To be more precise, Mahre's combined winning time in the slalom, on the final day of those XIV Winter Games, was 1 minute, 39.41 seconds — 21 hundredths of a second ahead of Steve.
Steve, who had led Phil by seven-tenths of a second after their first runs, came to terms long ago with his runner-up finish. That's not to say that he doesn't relive every perceived flaw that kept him from gold.
Before Steve made his final run, he talked via walkie-talkie to his brother at the bottom of the mountain. Phil had already raced, and, as always, gave Steve tips on the course — essentially a road map to beating him for the gold.
"It was a hard pill to swallow, but what better person to lose to than my brother?" said Steve. "We had a saying our entire career: Keep it in the family."
Phil's family had expanded by one that very day. His wife Holly gave birth to a son, Alex, in Scottsdale, Ariz., at roughly the same time Phil was racing down the slopes of Bjelasnica. Phil was informed of the birth as he went to the awards ceremony, and broke down at his news conference.
Steve couldn't resist his own wisecrack: "If they would have told me his son had been born, I would have definitely told Phil. Because I know he would have left, and I would be gold medalist right now."
For Armstrong, a 20-year-old barely two years removed from Seattle's Garfield High School, it was a 2-minute, 20.98-second ride to fame and glory.
Unheralded when the Olympics began, Armstrong was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when it ended with her having earned the U.S.'s first gold medal in the Sarajevo Games, in the giant slalom.
It was the high point of a seven-year career on the U.S. ski team that earned her the nickname "Debstrong" for her mental and physical toughness.
"My mind that day was crystal, crystal clear," recalled Armstrong, now 46 and Alpine Technical Director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
"There was a certain innocence. I was there that day to win a medal. No deterring. I was full of life and joy, but fiercely independent and competitive. Then, on that day, it was the epic, ultimate release of setting your mind to do something and then accomplishing it."
Yet as exhilarating as that moment was, Armstrong embraces Mahre's premise of not letting it define her. She has embodied that philosophy with a life of exploration and growth. She went back to school and earned a degree in history from the University of New Mexico, then trained to become certified as a ski instructor.
Armstrong also made a pilgrimage to Sarajevo in 2001 after the Bosnian war ravaged the country, an experience she said "gave me so much more context and understanding. When you're there as an athlete, it's tunnel vision. To go back and see the devastation, but also see the hope and energy in building the city back, and the pride of the residents, made it a wonderful trip."
In Sarajevo, Armstrong planted trees and helped with environmental restoration.
"Phil couldn't be more accurate," she said. "That medal can't define you — yet you can't separate the fact that it's part of who you are. Not necessarily because it's in your consciousness every day, because it absolutely isn't. But as far as the majority of people who don't know you, that's how they see you.
"I embrace it. It's wonderful, but I had a lot of life to live after being 20 years old on that day."
Sumners admits that putting aside the disappointment of narrowly missed gold was hard. She entered the Olympics at 19 as the reigning world champion. She was expected to breeze to the gold and then cash in millions on the pro tour.
Sumners, raised in Edmonds, had begun skating as a youngster at Lynnwood's Sno-King Ice Arena and dedicated her youth to the dream of a gold medal.
"I chose it, or it chose me, at 7," she said. "I was fine going to bed at 8, and setting the alarm at 4 a.m. I loved being different. I wanted to be different. It was part of the motivation. ... There was no question in my mind I was going to be a champion."
In Sarajevo, however, Sumners finished second to Katarina Witt of East Germany by one-tenth of a point. It came down to the long program. A strong showing would have given her the gold.
"It took years to come to terms with it, and I'm sure whatever happened that night affected my whole life, negative and positive, in its own ways," Sumners said.
"The older you get, you realize, 'Wow, I went to the Olympics.' But that night, I was there for one purpose, and one purpose only, that I had chosen at 7. You're trying to do it for your family, and your country, and every eye is on you. That's a lot on a 19-year-old's shoulders."
Instead of executing a triple jump, as planned, Sumners did a double. And a double jump became a single. Those omissions no doubt cost her the gold.
"Really, that night, some part of me sort of gave up a little bit," she said. "Because the pressure had gotten so bad."
Finishing second, she said, "always kept me hungry, for sure, as a skater. ... If I hadn't made it to the Olympics, or hadn't been world champion, that would have been life-crushing. But other than the fact I would have been announced every night as 'Olympic champion Rosalynn Sumners,' I never looked at something and said, 'If I had won the Olympics, I could have gotten to do that.' "
She added wistfully, "It would have been fun to be announced as Olympic champion."
After two unfulfilling years on the Disney on Ice tour, trying to entertain kids who came to see Mickey Mouse, Sumners was invited to join the fledgling Stars on Ice tour by its founder, Scott Hamilton.
"That call saved my life," Sumners said. "I don't know if I would have skated again, or what I would have done. It was so much fun, and so rewarding."
She stayed with Stars on Ice for 13 years, riding the figure-skating boom and becoming as close as family with fellow competitors like Hamilton, Witt, Kristi Yamaguchi and Brian Boitano.
Sumners, now 45, has been married since 2004 to Bob Kain, her longtime beau and former president of the powerhouse IMG sports agency. They have a home in Palm Springs, Calif., and one in Kirkland. She says she'll never abandon her Puget Sound roots.
Since retiring from skating in 2007 — she's contemplating a brief return to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Stars on Ice — Sumners has begun a second career as an entrepreneur.
After dabbling in building homes by starting a residential real-estate development company, she now operates two adjoining stores in Kirkland, Bella Tesori and Bella Bambina. The former specializes in custom furniture and home décor, while the latter sells clothing and other items for babies and small children.
Despite the lagging economy, she loves the challenge.
"I have great fun buying all the cute stuff," she said, laughing. "It's like choreography — constant ideas. How can I move it around and make it look inviting?"
None of the four have plans to attend the Vancouver Olympics, though the Mahres, who do corporate appearances as well as running the Mahre Training Center in Deer Valley, Utah, might wind up there if they have a client.
That doesn't mean they won't all watch and remember.
When Phil Mahre recently was on the podium with aspiring 2010 Olympians during a Comcast news conference, he teared up as he addressed the athletes.
"The farther you get away from your career, the more you realize how much it meant to you," he said.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
"That medal can't define you — yet you can't separate the fact that it's part of who you are." — Debbie Armstrong.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.