These swim-twins have sporting DNA in their blood
● If twins get bust bunking class in the bathroom at school, one would assume trouble, or double trouble, as the case may be.
Except when it comes to Georgia and Olivia Nel. They and a friend skipped a lifeorientation period so they could finish their homework because of their busy schedules.
The 18-year-old Cape Town sisters, who matriculated last year with 12 As between them, compete at the SA Olympic trials that start in Gqeberha on Wednesday.
Whether they make the team for the Tokyo Games or not, swimming has already earned them spots at the University of North Carolina.
“I didn’t have to do well,” said Georgia, who achieved a 91% aggregate with seven As and came fourth in the country in French. “We just needed to actually pass ... [but] what’s the point of not giving our best?” Olivia also achieved a fourth, in art.
Their appetite for hard work turned them into bathroom truants one time. “We had a gala coming up and we had to do the homework,” Georgia said.
They were caught and taken to the principal. “He said ‘okay, you mustn’t do this again, but also, I’m sorry’,” said Olivia. “He actually apologised for the workload,” added Georgia, the older twin by five minutes.
They are similar in many ways, and different in a host of others. Olivia, at 1.85m, is taller by a couple of centimetres. Olivia enjoys creative pursuits and Georgia is partial to maths, science and accounting.
Olivia is a sprinter, Georgia prefers middle distance.
Both say their best chances of Olympic qualification are in the relays, Olivia for the backstroke leg of the 4x100m medley and Georgia in the 4x200m freestyle.
But they’re not putting pressure on themselves because they can aim for Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028.
Swimming literally flows in their veins. Mother Annette Cowley-Nel won NCAA championship rings — the highest honour in collegiate swimming — at the University of Texas four years in a row in the 1980s.
Father Jeremy, who played rugby and cricket at the Craven and Nuffield weeks, bolstered their sporting DNA.
What is the point of not giving our best?
Olympic triallist and twin of Olivia
But the two joked that their swimming came from their dad. “He beat you in the 50m sprint,” Georgia teased Annette during a WhatsApp group video call this week. “No, it wasn’t 50m,” replied their mom. “When there’s a turn involved he can’t beat me.”
Then Georgia got more serious. “I think every single one of my orals from grade one to grade seven … was about my mom. She was my biggest inspiration for swimming and life in general … the hardships she went through.”
Unable to compete at top international events because of the boycott against apartheid SA, Annette switched to England.
She made the team but was booted from the 1986 Commonwealth Games village in
Edinburgh the day before the showpiece got under way. In 1992 she was controversially omitted from the SA Olympic team that went to the Barcelona Games.
Annette points out that the twins chose swimming for themselves in grade nine, ditching water polo where they had won provincial colours and national titles.
The one event they both do is the 100m freestyle, and Georgia went to town celebrating the first time she beat her sister, writing
on her medal: “I beat Livi.”
Olivia: “It was a big deal for her.”
Georgia: “It was a big deal for you too because you didn’t speak to me the entire day.”
Olivia: “Because you wouldn’t stop talking about it.”
The banter is regular, the bond is tight. “They keep us amused,” noted Annette.
After a month-and-a-half apart — Olivia’s been training in Gqeberha and Georgia in Durban — they plan to hang out after the gala.
“I think we’ll be able to have a little bit more fun now that Georgia has a driver’s licence,” said Olivia.
“Watch my hair stand on end,” Annette interjected. “We haven’t seen each other for six weeks now,” Olivia continued. “A very long time for twins.”
Annette is confident they’ll flourish in the US, where the swimming facilities and expertise are light years ahead of SA’s.
But equally SA swimmers are used to
tough conditions and thrive on adversity.
Olivia and Georgia had to sleep on the floor at the 2018 Southern African under-20 games in Botswana, but they swam in the 4x50m freestyle relay team that sliced nearly half a second off the SA senior record.
“Getting to the Tokyo Olympics would be a bonus,” said Olivia. “[But] going to the US and having a whole new view of swimming is exciting. It’s almost like a new sport.”
They’re ready for fresh adventures.