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Kristie Phillips, Champion Gymnast September 1, 1986


Officially, it was a reverse planche. To Kristie Phillips,
however, her pose for SI's cover was simply "the butt-on-the-head
move." The 14-year-old, 78-pound gymnast told SI she couldn't
remember a time when she wasn't able to bend all the way over
backward. Now Phillips, 26, says she can't get her head anywhere
near her derriere. "It hurts to look at it," she says of that
cover. "My back just doesn't bend the same way anymore."

In the fall of 1986 Phillips was poised to become the next
superstar of U.S. gymnastics. That year she won all-around titles
at the American Cup, the junior nationals and the U.S. Olympic
Festival. She had the coach, Bela Karolyi, the natural
showmanship and the irrepressible, Wheaties-box smile of her
idol, 1984 Olympic heroine Mary Lou Retton. Two years later,
however, instead of doing handsprings down Madison Avenue with
Olympic gold around her neck, she was out of competitive

Phillips won the U.S. all-around title in June 1987 but finished
45th at the worlds that fall. As she grew she lost some of her
flexibility and began to struggle with her weight and
conditioning. She finished eighth at the '88 Olympic trials and
as the second alternate on the U.S. team didn't compete in Seoul.
After the Games she hung up her bar grips for good and returned
to her family in Baton Rouge.

After spending three years at LSU on a cheerleading scholarship,
Phillips moved to New York City to take up acting. She quickly
landed a Delta Airlines commercial, then in 1994 won the lead in
the action-adventure Spitfire, playing a martial arts expert. She
works as a stunt double, most recently in last summer's comedy
Mafia!, and has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman as
a pair of dancing pants. "I'm not shy about being in front of the
camera," she says. "I find I can do things I didn't think I

When not working in films, Phillips choreographs routines for
gymnasts near her home in Asbury Park, N.J., where she lives with
her husband, singer-songwriter Horatio Thomas. Though she is
removed from gymnastics, the reverse planche is still known on
the circuit as the Phillips. "I always wondered, What if I had
gotten everything?" she says of winning Olympic gold and reaping
its rewards. "I wouldn't know what it takes to make it in the
world. I love my life. I wouldn't have had it any other

--Mark Beech


COLOR PHOTO: JOE MCNALLY [Cover of September 1, 1986 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED featuring Kristie Phillips performing reverse planche on balance beam]

"It hurts to look at that cover," she says. "I can't bend like
that anymore."