Two Olympic Hopefuls Keep Figure Skating in the Family

updated 03/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/08/1982 AT 01:00 AM EST

Though they are brother and sister by adoption, not blood, Kitty and Peter Carruthers are closer than most siblings will ever be. As partners on ice, they have glided hand in hand to two U.S. pairs figure-skating championships and into top contention for the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. "We're almost like twins," says Kitty, 20. "We dream the same dreams and have the same heartaches." Adds Peter, 22, "It's as intense as a marriage. You've got to make it work."

Peter and Kitty practice together seven hours a day to develop elegance, strength and artistry. Their most spectacular stunt is the "Carruthers lift," in which the 5'11", 158-pound Peter lifts Kitty (5'1", 98 pounds) over his head parallel to the ground, throws her into the air, then turns to catch her as she lands on one foot. Explains Kitty of their daring style, "I want to be special."

The Carrutherses will try their moves at the world championship in Copenhagen this month. In two years they hope to go to the Winter Games in Yugoslavia. Some say they are America's next Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia—the Olympic favorites who had to drop out in 1980 after Randy pulled a thigh muscle. Kitty and Peter already know about such unexpected perils. At the national championships in Indianapolis in January, Peter's blade caught in a rut; they stumbled, but recovered quickly. Kitty—the bubbly, optimistic member of the pair—did not let her perfectionist brother sulk. "Peter," she exclaimed, "that was one of the best we ever skated!" Kitty was right: They were declared winners in spite of the near disaster. Observes former Olympian Dick Button: "There is a sensational relationship between them. They love each other and like each other. They may criticize each other—but don't let anybody else."

The Carrutherses started skating together at ages 6 and 8, when their father, Charles, built a backyard rink at home in Burlington, Mass. Soon they were taking lessons. Charles was teaching physics at Massachusetts Bay Community College, but arranged his schedule to allow himself 40 to 50 hours a week to shuttle the kids between rinks. "They slept on mattresses in the back of the station wagon," he recalls. "But I didn't get any sleep." Their mother, Maureen, continues to teach art at a public school to support their skating careers. Says Kitty, "There's a lot of love there."

Kitty (whose natural heritage is Welsh and Lebanese) and Peter (who is Dutch and English) were adopted as infants from the New England Home for Little Wanderers and are as devoted to Charles and Maureen as they are to each other. Peter has no interest in knowing the identity of his natural parents, though Kitty admits wondering "if my real mother has seen me, if she knows who I am."

Kitty and Peter moved to Wilmington, Del. in 1977 to train with 1960 Olympic medalist Ron Ludington, one of the top pairs coaches in the country. Peter shares an apartment with their male weight-lifting coach, Hillary Nortz, and Kitty rents a room in a house with two other skaters. Most of their friends are skaters, like Randy and Tai (who have turned pro) and close competitors Lea Ann Miller and Bill Fauver. At the 1980 Olympics, where the Carrutherses finished fifth, they met Mike Eruzione, captain of the U.S. hockey team, and speed skater Eric Heiden. Says Peter, "It really was the people at the Olympics who inspired us to want to go for it."

Going for it means that Kitty and Peter must schedule their day around available rink time. They're up at 11 a.m. and on the ice from 1 to 3 p.m. Until dinner, they work with their weight-lifting coach, acting instructor, dance instructor or choreographer. After a high-protein meal of eggs, chicken and salad, they are back on the ice from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. "My ambition exceeds my talent by a mile," Peter says. "I have to work for everything. People say I'm cocky; I don't think I am."

There's no time for social life. "That's a bummer," says Peter, who instead racks up "outrageous phone bills" with one special young woman who lives in Massachusetts. "I don't break training. Girls understand and that's why they don't have anything to do with me." Kitty's off-rink partner for two years was national men's figure champ Scott Hamilton. Last year he moved to Colorado and now they can see each other only at tournaments. "I have the rest of my life," says Kitty, who hopes to become an actress when she's too old to skate professionally. (Peter wants to become a sports broadcaster.) "Right now I'm concerned about my skating," she adds. "We're going to work a little harder, a little longer, jump a little higher and spin a little faster."

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