There can only be one question to start with when you sit down in front of Jessica and Jennifer Gadirova: which twin is which?
Jennifer, to the left, is the first to identify herself, but positioning alone seems the only way to separate the sisters. Both have their hair tied in a topknot and are wearing the same British Gymnastics tracksuits.
‘I have a little freckle on my forehead,’ says Jessica. ‘Some people also say we have different shaped faces. Jen has more of an oval one and I have more of a round one… or is it the opposite?’
Jessica Gadirova (left) and Jennifer at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre in Shropshire
‘It’s the opposite,’ interjects their coach Joshua Richardson. The little freckle it is then — though it counts for nothing when you are listening back to the interview and trying to decipher between two voices with the same southern twang.
You might have thought the 16-year-old Gadirova girls would have grown bored with being mistaken for each other.
Instead, they embrace it. Not least on one occasion at their school in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, where they have just completed their GCSEs.
‘It was April Fools’ Day and we decided to switch form classes,’ said Jennifer. ‘It was the most nerve-racking thing ever!’
Jessica adds: ‘We always planned to do it for years and we finally did it that one time, but we don’t want to do it again. It was too scary!’
If their looks are alike bar that lone freckle, there also seems little difference in their personalities on initial evidence. Jennifer describes herself as the ‘quiet one’ and her sister as the ‘loud one’. But here in the sun at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre, both teenagers are in good voice for their first joint national newspaper interview.
When not finishing each other’s sentences, they are answering questions in unison. So are they best friends as well as identical twins?
‘It is hard when you are together 24/7,’ admits Jessica. ‘Some days you are like besties and then the next day it’s like, “I don’t want to speak to you, you are annoying me, get out of my face. Just leave me alone”.’
Jessica’s three medal haul at the European Championships in April has raised expectations
The 24/7 nature of their relationship also made things interesting when it came to finding out if they had both made Team GB’s four-woman squad for Tokyo at the end of May.
Waiting by the phone at home with their family, Jessica was the first to receive the good news from British Gymnastics performance director James Thomas. Her selection was largely expected, but Jennifer’s Olympic spot was not so certain.
She says: ‘My phone call came about 20 minutes after Jess got hers. James was talking quite slowly on the phone so it made us think he didn’t know what to say, because he didn’t want to disappoint.
‘Then he asked me how would I feel to be an Olympian. I said, “Oh, that would be so cool”, and he said, “Congratulations” and we were just thrilled. Going to the Olympics was a big dream. There were so many good contenders in this cycle, we never thought we would definitely make it. But now to be able to say we are going this year is amazing.’
Jessica adds: ‘Hearing she had also got selected, everyone just burst into tears. It was like, “Oh my God, we have both made it”.
The Gadirovas’ gymnastics journey started when they were six years old and living in Coventry
‘It is going to be such an incredible experience and memory to both enjoy it together. We are not putting any pressure on ourselves or expecting too much from it. We just want to get the experience and, hopefully, if we make another Olympics in the future, our aim would be to get medals.’
Born in Dublin to Azerbaijani parents who moved to the UK in 2001, the Gadirovas’ gymnastics journey started when they were six years old and living in Coventry. They moved to London and then, when they were 12, to Aylesbury, where they train more than 30 hours a week under another sibling partnership — coach Richardson and his sister Molly.
Tokyo will actually be the first time the twins have represented Great Britain together on a global senior stage and strangely they are one of nine sets of siblings and three sets of twins in Team GB.
They will be sharing the stage with their childhood hero — American gymnastic icon Simone Biles, the winner of four gold medals at Rio 2016. ‘She is everyone’s idol,’ says Jennifer. ‘She’s the biggest gymnast in the world and it will just be cool and amazing to see her because she is the greatest of all time. Not many people can say they have competed with Simone, or are going to be in the same competition, sogetting to say that is such a big thing in itself. I think we will be a bit starstruck around her.’
Tokyo will be the first time the twins have represented Great Britain together on a global stage
‘She’s like the biggest thing you will ever know in gymnastics,’ adds Jessica. ‘Just seeing her there will be so shocking. We’ll just be like statues, silent.’
‘Shocked’ is also the word Jessica uses to describe her emotions after her success at the European Championships in April, which has raised expectations coming into this summer’s Games.
She came home from Basle with a Biles-like haul of three medals — gold on the floor, silver on the vault and bronze in the all-around.
Her results, though, also acted as motivation for her twin, who was watching back at home because of a minor injury.
‘I felt so proud of her and happy for her achieving what she did, it was just incredible,’ says Jennifer, whose strongest events are also floor and vault.
‘We push each other but most of the time we are more encouraging each other and are there for one another.
‘Seeing how well she did really motivated me because I know how good I am and I am really close to her.’
Close in ability as well as identical in looks. It seems even the Japanese judges will struggle to separate the sisters this summer.
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