Elsewhere, you're on your own. But inside Utah's gym, there's an easy way to tell identical twins Sarah and Molly Northrop apart: Molly tapes an ankle (1995-96 Achilles tear) and Sarah tapes an upper arm (1997 torn tricep).
Injuries are one of the few things these 4-foot-11 mirror images don't do together.They alternate.
As sophomores, Molly is having the year that Sarah had in 1996, and Sarah is having the year Molly had last year.
That is to say that Molly, who had an unhappy freshman season because she was only able to perform on bars because of the Achilles, has competed regularly in three events (bars, beam, vault) and went all-around once (9.8 floor, 39.15 total). She'll be counted on in three events Thursday afternoon at Gainesville, Fla., as the Utes look for an 11th national title, which eluded them in '96 when all-arounder Traci Sommer fell on bars and couldn't finish team preliminaries.
That put Sarah in the spotlight. She'd had a fine freshman season, competing three to four events regularly. She was scheduled for vault, bars and floor that NCAA night until Sommer crashed her neck on the top bar and nearly fell to the floor, bars coach Aki Hummel getting there in time to break the fall. It was one of the more frightening moments in Ute gymnastics. Sommer returned in three events on championship night.
But first the Utes had to qualify to advance. Sarah unexpectedly replaced Sommer on the next and most nerve-wracking event, beam, and despite a fall and two wobbles by teammates who went ahead of her, the freshman scored 9.75. That gave her a 39.125 all-around total that placed her 12th in the NCAA all-around and made her a second-team All-American. "I knew she could do something like that," says Molly. Sarah says if it had been Molly, "She would do pretty well with it and handle the pressure well."
The Northrops are immensely supportive of each other, and though coach Greg Marsden says, "They're very much their own person," he sees them being competitive with each other in practice. They don't show that publicly. He thinks it's because the soft-spoken twins from Peoria, Ill., had such a strong Christian-family upbringing they think it's wrong to want to top each other.
"It's the way we were raised," Sarah says. "Our family is close, and we do things together." The twins don't brag or trash-talk each other. "That would make the other one mad," Sarah says. "We're competitive with each other, but it's a lot better when we both do well."
Marsden says this year he can finally tell them apart, though it's Sarah's opinion that "he still gets confused, but he's better." It isn't in the Northrop nature to pull pranks and fool people by switching places. They did it only once, in a practice as kids. But they were so quiet as freshmen that Marsden sometimes found himself coaching the wrong one. "They let me go on discussing something intended for the other one," he says. "Last year, I felt like they were terrified of me."
Early this season while tumbling on beam, Sarah felt a pull. She tried to ignore it, but it got worse. She took three meets off and still couldn't heal, so it's probably a torn tricep. She'll do bars this week and pass the rest of the meet cheering for Molly to have the kind of NCAAs Sarah did last year. "I feel like it's my second nationals," says Molly, who spent '96 visualizing routines and rehabbing hard (she liked it). "I only did one event last year, but I still got to be there and see what it's like."
This alternating isn't new. The twins did it through their club careers. "I had a lot of ankle trouble, ankle surgeries," says Sarah. Says Molly, "Sometimes I'd be out with stress fractures." If they weren't trading injuries, they were swapping wins. "It just depended on the meet," says Molly.
In '95, Sarah was out for surgery; Molly was Level 10 regional all-around champ. A few months later, Molly tore the Achilles on floor while she was working at a gymnastics camp; '96 was Sarah's turn. In '94, they tied for the L-10 national bars championship. "It was fun," says Molly, adding that together in their junior year in high school was motivating.
"It was a lot more fun when we were both doing it and could build off each other, but I know (this week) she'll be there to support me, and I'll be there to calm her down," says Sarah.
But wait till next year - that will be their junior year in college, and according to the pattern they set when they were juniors in high school, they're both expecting to do well.