opinion

"This photo angered a nation. But to me, it perfectly represents what it means to be a twin."

The Rio Olympic Games have delivered an incalculable number of spectacular sporting moments. But one particular moment during the women’s marathon on Sunday has attracted a great deal of controversy.

German twins Anna and Lisa Hahner crossed the finish line holding hands, in what was initially interpreted as an uplifting end to a rigorous race. It was heartwarming — two sisters, both of whom had trained for years to compete in the Olympics — decided to finish their marathon journey the way they had started: together.

Oddly enough, the Hahner sisters weren’t the only siblings to feature in the women’s marathon. Another set of twins from North Korea, Kim Hye-Song and Kim Hye-Gyong also competed, running identical times. And a set of triplets from Estonia, Lily, Liina and Leila Luik, embarked on the 42km race — but Lily and Liina ran different times, and Leila didn’t finish the race.

For some reason, it’s only the German sisters who have been heavily criticised for the way they ended the marathon.

German Athletics Federaton director Thomas Kurschilgen said, “The Hahner twins Lisa and Anna ended their Olympic marathon race more than 21 minutes behind the winner (and) more than 15 minutes on their best performance, (in position) 81 and 82.”

“It looked as though they completed a fun run and not (an) Olympic (race).”

In an email on Tuesday to the New York Times, Kurschilgen said that while “victory and medals are not the only goal,” the Hahner sisters crossed an important line when it comes to sportsmanship.

“Every athlete in the Olympic competitions should be motivated to demonstrate his or her best performance and aim for the best possible result,” he said.

“Their main aim was to generate media attention. That is what we criticise.”

The women say this wasn’t their intention, and the way they crossed the finish line was completely spontaneous.

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The wrath of the German media, however, is relentless.

“If the Hahners jointly want to cross the finish line, beaming and holding hands, then they can — in the countryside home run in St. Pölten or the Miss-Braided run in Solingen,” wrote columnist Lars Wallrodt in newspaper Die Welt.

But the sisters don’t see it that way.

After the marathon, the Hahner twins announced on Facebook that while they weren’t satisfied with their results, crossing the line together was “one of our greatest sporting moments.”

And I believe them. As a twin myself, I know all too well how it feels to compete against your sister.

While I haven’t run a marathon alongside my twin (HA… Sorry that imagery is just hilarious), we’ve conquered many of life’s challenges side by side. We chased success at school, studied together at university, and much to our mother’s dismay, we’ve even followed the same career path.

And it can be really hard sometimes. I know what it feels like to lose and I know what it feels like to win. Both are bittersweet.

When you come out on top, there’s a part of you that’s proud and a part that feels pain. When you’re beaten, there are deep-seated fears of inadequacy, mixed with awe for someone else’s achievement.

My twin sister and I. Image supplied.
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Running a marathon together, literally or figuratively, is complex. That doesn't mean siblings who do so are any less competent, any less competitive, or any less resilient. It just makes them unique. And it means that outside observers might not understand what's going on beyond the surface.

In the wake of the widespread criticism against her, Anna Hahner wrote to the New York Times about the marathon.

She said her and her sister weren't side by side the entire race. In fact, with 2km to go, Anna made a huge effort to catch up to Lisa, eventually crossing the finish line alongside her.

"Lisa was always not far from me," she wrote. "After 40km, there was a turning point, and I knew, ‘Okay Anna, 2km to go to close the gap to Lisa.’"

"I invested all I had and 300m before the finish line, I was next to Lisa. It was a magical moment that we could finish this marathon together. We did not think about what we were doing."

The photo of Anna and Lisa Hahner crossing the finish line together, and the story behind how they got there, gives a powerful representation of what it means to be a twin. Sometimes I feel like I'm ahead, and sometimes I feel like I'm catching up.

But, for me, the best feeling comes from both my twin and I achieving something we can be proud of, and celebrating together.

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