A casual observer at the recent Princeton Invitational may have been a bit confused by the sight of the same Penn cross country runner crossing the finish line twice in a one-second span.
That's because sophomores Clarissa and Cleo Whiting are identical twins, and while they might not share a personality, they are nearly perfect matches in terms of appearance and — oftentimes — performance on the trail.
Clarissa clocked in 13th overall with a time of 22:06 at the 6-kilometer race, just a heartbeat before Cleo crossed the line at 22:07 (one identical heartbeat later, fellow Penn runner Elyssa Gensib ran in with a time of 22:08).
"We think about it, but it's not as competitive," Clarissa said of the near-tie. "First and foremost, Cleo and I work really well together, so it's never as much of a competition. There was a point in the race, before I came ahead of her, where she was helping me get out there. We work really well together and I think that shows."
Cleo, at least in opinion, differed from her sister:
"I think it actually is pretty competitive," she laughed. "Sometimes it's really hard for us to be in practice all the time together and race together because we both want to do well. It's helpful because if she's up there, I can be up there. But if you're not feeling it that day, and now you have the extra pressure to get up there, sometimes it can get frustrating."
But Cleo, who battled injury over the summer and early in the season, agreed that overall, each twin is a boon to the other's performance:
"When you boil it down, we both feed off each other really well. It's kind of an invisible bond."
The bond seems pretty visible to coach Steve Dolan.
"Since they're used to running with each other, they feed off each other, they help each other run better because they know the other one is there,” he said. “We saw the other weekend how Clarissa had her best race of the season when Cleo returned and ran with her."
And, as the twins acknowledged, their identicalness opens up the door for a bit of extra fun on the track, at the expense of their unsuspecting opponents.
"When we're racing next to each other and we can block someone off, it's really fun," Cleo said. "You can envelop them, and they can't get past you."
The time for fun and games on the course, however, has ended. With Heptagonals coming up and an Ivy title on the line, Penn needs another strong performance from the twins to have a chance. Dolan is optimistic, but cautiously so.
"We certainly aren't favored … we're underdogs.” he said. But the way we're running, I think we're ready to run our best race of the season."
The twins are ready for the challenge.
"To go out there and say 'I can do it,' that's the biggest thing, because you've already put in most of the work at this point in the season," Cleo said.
"We're determined to do well, and not be the underdogs anymore," Clarissa added.
"That's going to go a long way."
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