THEY popped into the world just six minutes apart and, in the 45 years since, they have been pretty much inseparable.
They live together, work at the same leisure centre and, thanks to a shared interest in wrestling, they are training partners as well. Yet, despite spending so much time together, identical twins Donna and Fiona Robertson claim they rarely fall out and have never had an argument that lingered.
This summer, their relationship will be tested. The dream of a Commonwealth Games gold medal is something else they share but only one of them can fulfil that ambition in Glasgow.
Four years ago, in Delhi, they avoided a head-to-head, with Donna opting to compete in a higher weight category to ensure they both made the team. “Because Delhi was one per weight, I fought the category up,” she says. “But this time we were allowed two at a weight category so we’re both fighting at our natural weight at 48kg.”
It is a situation fraught with pitfalls. With no seeding system, they know they could be drawn against each other in the first round, with one ending the other’s Commonwealth ambitions before they really get going. Ideally, though, they want to avoid facing up to each other until the final, guaranteeing them both a place on the podium.
“That’s the ideal scenario,” says Donna, who despite being the younger by six minutes is also described as the more dominant personality. “I think that’s because I let her speak more,” says Fiona. On the mats, though, they say there is little between them. “If you ask us who is the best, it comes down to that particular day,” states Donna.
On the day they met in the Commonwealth Championships, in South Africa back in November, it was Fiona who came up trumps, beating her sister to the bronze medal. But while this will be the first time they have challenged in the same weight category in the Commonwealth Games, with medals a realistic chance, they had to endure plenty of highs and lows at each other’s expense over the years.
Before switching to wrestling in 2007 they were both accomplished judo players. It was a different sport but they were dogged by the same problems. They both fought at the same weight level and the last time the Games were in Scotland, in 1986, they had to battle it out for selection. Donna got the nod. Four years later Donna again won the place on the team but this time she made it count, returning from Auckland with the bronze medal.
The next time judo was included in the Games schedule, in 2002, it was Fiona who made the team and she equalled her twin’s efforts, winning a bronze of her own.
“That’s the thing, if we draw each other, we know that someone is going to lose but at least someone is going to win,” says Donna. “We both know what it is like to lose and what it is like to win so we are always there for each other.”
She tells the story of one of their first international competitions, in Madrid, where they did end up being pitted against each other in the first round. “That was the last thing we wanted, especially when we had gone away to get experience. We did say that we could have fought in our living room back home and saved a fortune!”
But with numbers limited in Scotland, where Olympic freestyle wrestling lives in the shadows of the theatre and razzmatazz of WWE, they may not push back the furniture in their front room and start grappling but they do spend hours training together on the mats at the Emirates Stadium.
“We train and we compete with each other, especially in Britain because the numbers aren’t there,” explains lifeguard Donna.
“It was like that in judo but even more so in wrestling,” adds Fiona, who works in the gym in the same leisure centre as her sister. “It’s not a sport where you can just go out for a run yourself and try to beat a time. You need a training partner and need to practise techniques and having somebody your weight is ideal.”
And whether they meet in the first round or manage to realise their dream and avoid coming together until the latter stages, she insists they will still warm up together.
“Even if we are fighting each other in the final, we will still warm up together and then go our separate ways. The competition is on the mat.”
In Delhi four years ago, they felt like the raw newcomers they were. “It feels more like I’m a wrestler now,” admits Donna, “rather than going through the transition from judo that we were at the time.”
“It all felt quite new in 2010 because we’d only been doing it two years,” agrees Fiona, “but we have six years’ experience now and don’t feel caught in the headlights as much. When we first took up the sport we felt the transition would be easier than it actually was, but it took us more than two years to feel comfortable. Technically, they’re quite different and in judo you have a kit to grab, whereas in wrestling you just wear the singlet so knowing what grip to use took a while.”
Four years ago they got the T-shirt and the experience – this time it’s medals and a greater sense of achievement they are seeking.
“We’ve just turned 45, so to finish off with a medal, especially in Glasgow, would be a dream. That’s why we stayed on in the sport,” explains Donna. “In a lot of sports age is an issue for selection but both of us have proven we can still compete with the younger players and I’m proud we can still do that.”
Although keen to grasp the opportunity to raise the sport’s profile in Glasgow and encourage more youngsters, especially girls, into the sport, they haven’t ruled out continuing to compete themselves.
“We’ve never officially retired from judo either,” states Fiona with a little chuckle, “so never say never!”
Sporty kids, while their brothers preferred football the twins tried a range of interests, both eventually settling on judo. “We liked the element of a combat sport,” says Donna. “Not that we’re violent people,” interjects Fiona. “It was more the sport and the training than the actual fighting element of it.”
But the thrill of big competitions and the thought of tussling in front of a patriotic home ground does excite them, especially if they do get their wish of a double podium finish.
The Indians, the Canadians and the Nigerians are considered the main threats. The sisters take advantage of YouTube postings to suss out the foreign opponents but when it comes to the domestic challenge, they say they know each other inside out.
“We’ve got different techniques and the coach was saying that yesterday, saying ‘you do it that side, and she does it that side’,” says Donna. “So we do sort of mirror each other without thinking about it. To watch us we probably look similar but we are actually quite different.”
It’s something that may be more evident on the mat but if these two are different in any way, it is obvious to few other than themselves.