The three most famous names in the history of American ski racing, Phil & Steve Mahre, are having a coming-out-of-retirement party this weekend at the Park City Ski Area.
Four seasons was more than enough time away from the thing the twin brothers from White Pass, Wash., do best. It was great theater, the way they went out of racing - supposedly for good - at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. On the final day of those medal-starved Games - medal-starved for America - they came out of the slalomchutes to finish one-two (Phil-Steve), gold-silver, and wow a nation home watching on TV. Phil's wife delivered their first child, a boy named Alex, that very day, to add to the TV coverage.
The brothers retired, in tandem, then and there, taking their combined 36 World Cup race titles, Phil's three overall World Cup championships and Steve's first-ever American world championship gold medal with them into the land of living legends.
They were 27 and ready to become respectable businessmen.
Now they're 31 and ready to turn professional.
As they explained at a midweek press conference prior to this weekend's America's Opening Pro Cup races at Park City, their motivation is varied. They're competitors, that's one motivation. They're driven to excel, that's another motivation. They miss running gates, that's another.
But primarily, it's come to this: They can use the money.
Being a genuine Olympic hero in your own lifetime means a lot of things. One thing it doesn't mean, however, is that you're automatically an MBA graduate from Harvard.
Between Sarajevo and now, the twins got into a few business deals that didn't turn out as well as, say, their World Cup careers. The biggest loser was a now-defunct clothing line they sponsored, called TWN (for twin).
How much did it lose?
"More than you would like to lose," said Steve Mahre. "More than we wanted to lose, too."
At their peak during the World Cup years, the Mahres made $400,000 or so per annum - which wasn't bad, considering they were amateurs - so they had something to lose. And from all reports their training camp at Keystone, Colo., is doing well, and they aren't close to any Chapters 11 or 13 or anything like that.
It's just that they looked around to consider what they could best make money at, and the best they could come up with was ski racing.
While they've still got it, they intend to flaunt it.
No sooner had they announced their intent to join the fledgling U.S. Pro Tour - a circuit for pros that has been in existence for 12 seasons, operating in relative obscurity - than the sponsors started springing out of dark hallways.
They've got a beer company, an airline, a ski manufacturer, a binding manufacturer, a sunglass manufacturer and a clothing manufacturer lined up, for starters.
If all goes well, they could make as much as professionals this season as they made when they were amateurs.
They're certainly hoping so, largely because they're anxious to talk their ski racing sponsors into staying with them on a 12-month basis. They'd like to display their logos on the side of their race car next summer.
Car racing is the Mahres' latest passion. They have dabbled in it the past two summers. Road racing is their favorite, although they have also raced on the track.
"We'd love to get to the point where we have our own car and can run the endurance stuff," said Steve, "like what Paul Newman does."
The name of that game is sponsors - the same as the name of the U.S. Pro Tour is sponsors.
"We like to live life to the fullest," said Phil.
The question now is whether a four-year layoff from competitive ski racing took an edge off the brothers' talents; whether they can dominate the pros they way they dominated the amateurs. Or, as Phil said, "beat the guys we used to beat."
Competition in the men's slalom and giant slalom finals today and Sunday on Park City's Payday run will help shed light on the answer. Phil & Steve will be be back in gates, hoping to hear, "Gentlemen, start your engines."