Genevieve on beam (Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
To the casual observer most gymnasts look the same. But gymnastics judges should be able to tell the difference, right?
Well, maybe it's not always that easy. In fact, some judges have had a hard time telling the difference between the five-foot-five Claveau twins from Canada.
"In warm up you only get two vaults. I went, and then my sister went, then I went again," Genevive Claveau said. "The judges said, 'She is disqualified, she did three warm up vaults.'"
It was then quickly brought to the judges' attention that there were, in fact, twins competing.
Now the twins spend a lot of time together competing on the same teams, but it hasn't always been like that. Genevive started in ballet. Marie-Helene got to try gymnastics. One day Genevive was watching Marie-Helene's class, and they were soon doing both, in addition to swimming lessons.
Their mother had wanted them to do something active, but having twins in three different classes became too much. They were forced to choose. However the twins knew from their first flip that gymnastics was something they wanted to pursue.
"I just liked it. I just fell in love with the sport. I liked the challenge," Marie-Helene said.
"When I saw Marie-Helene doing gymnastics I wanted to do it," Genevive said. "It seemed like fun to jump around."
That was just the beginning of a lifetime pursuit of gymnastics. The twins grew up in French-speaking Laval, Quebec. The twins relied on their parents, Claude-Nil and Marie Sarrasin, who both work as criminologists, to get them to school and to gymnastics practice.
"We had gym four times a week, so basically after school my mom would come pick us up, and we would have the biggest race home, run up the stairs, put on a leo, run down and eat in five minutes, get in the car and go," Marie-Helene said. "It was crazy but we liked it. I was always late [to practice] because of school."
It was the love of the sport, and the love of their coach that kept them going.
For 15 years the twins excelled under the same coach at Club de gymnastique Laval Excellence. Josee Gelinas became like a second mother to them, and it was difficult to leave the only home and coach they had known. However their opportunity to compete at the NCAA level in the U.S. would soon come.
At the 2003 Canadian Gymnastic Championships, Brad and Dawn Cattermole approached the twins about coming to BYU to compete.
"We saw the twins about four years ago at the Canadian Nationals and we have followed their progress for a couple of years," said Dawn Cattermole. "In 2002, I talked to their coach at nationals and found out that Marie-Helene and Genevive were 18 or 19 and they had graduated from their high school, so I knew that I could talk to them after the meet."
The twins had no idea they were being recruited by schools in the U.S. A coach from Iowa was also looking at the Claveaus, so Dawn had to "fight" with him over who would get each one. Marie-Helene and Genevive were interested in both schools but were not willing to separate or leave Canada. They wanted to stay one more year to compete in the Canada Games, and BYU was willing to wait for them.
"My sister and I wanted to do the Canada Games, which is kind of like a small Olympics for Canada," Marie-Helene said."
The games happen only every four years, and there is an age limit of 20. This would be the absolute last opportunity for the twins to participate.
They both began training, but a big problem struck. Genevive tore her ACL one week before selections for the Games. This meant Marie-Helene got to go to the games and Genevive had to watch her go.
"It was really hard not to go to the games," Genevive said. "To not be able to go together was really hard."
Marie-Helene also faced some problems. She had over-trained and would get sick after too much practice. However, she managed to become captain of her team and led them to a second place team finish. Marie-Helene had never competed so far away from her sister. However she wasn't going to be completely alone. Her parents showed up with a surprise...Genevive.
"I didn't think it was her at first because I thought she was at home," Marie-Helene said. "It meant a lot to me because I know it was really hard for her."
Marie-Helene finished the Games with a second place finish on floor and sixth on bars.
In the fall of 2003, Genevive and Marie-Helene started their "freshman" year at BYU as 20-year-olds. They had already completed some schooling at medical and business school respectively.
Because of the different school systems, none of the credits or classes transferred. In fact, before they were admitted to BYU they were required to take the SAT in English. They have had English classes since the 4th grade but had never tested in it. They had one week to prepare.
In addition they had to translate their own transcripts for BYU and hope they got them right.
The twins first semester at BYU proved to be a new and interesting experience.
Marie-Helene went to her first economics class and the professor started talking about a Joseph Smith. She looked around the class and noticed most of the students nodding, so she assumed him to be a famous economist. She quickly found out that he wasn't.
The Claveau's parents were even a bit worried about their daughters attending the school.
"We knew little about Utah and Provo before Marie-Helene and Genevive went there," they said. "From their stories, we discovered a welcoming community."
Despite the hesitancy of the parents and the adjustments the twins have had to make in a foreign culture, they feel their time here has been well spent and hope to have a great last year.
"I know I am lucky," Genevive said.
Hopefully the year does go well because it will probably be the last year the Claveaus will compete for BYU.
Though only in their sophomore year, the twins are already 21 and still have school to finish in Canada. Marie-Helene is in the middle of business school. And Genevive, who is studying sports medicine, needs to get back to medical school before she loses her place.
Even though gymnastics is a worldwide sport, the twins ran into a few problems when they got to Provo.
The differences in languages created some unique barriers for the twins, since gymnastics moves have different names in the different languages.
The coaches would tell them to do something and they wouldn't have any idea what it was. Marie-Helene also hit a snag in measuring vaults and converting them from meters to feet.
"When I got here I thought I could turn [the tape] to the meter side, no worries," she said. "But there was no meter side. We had to find a chart so I could convert where I start."
During competition there is little contention between the twins. In fact, they both get very nervous for the other when they are competing.
"In meets I get really nervous for her so I don't like watching her," Marie-Helene said.
Since coming to BYU the girls have found a very welcoming home. Some of their closest friends are on the gymnastics team and they have learned a lot in their time here. Their performances last year speak for themselves.
During the 2004 season Genevive competed in 11 of the meets, missing only two because of an abdominal injury. She scored a career-high 9.900 on bars against Southern Utah University. Marie-Helene competed in all meets. Against Utah State she tied for the school's second highest individual score on vault and third highest on beam with a 9.975.
For the upcoming 2005 meets, the twins are expecting a great season.
Last season the Cougars earned a national ranking as high as number six. They barely missed a trip to Nationals by placing third at Regionals, after having to recover from a fall. They finished the season ranked 16th nationally. This year they hope to do even better and make Nationals.
"After last year, getting so close to Nationals and not making it, everybody is working really hard," said Genevive.
They really appreciate the chance to work with girls on a team who are the same age, after coming from a program where the next oldest girl was three years younger. The twins think the team spirit is really good and that the coaches are working hard to make them ready for this year's meets.