The Olympic Twins
Posted on 06 November 2013, 10:29
The Somali-born long-distance runner Mohamed (‘Mo’) Farah CBE (below) endeared himself to the British public by winning two gold medals in the 2012 London Olympic Games and declaring very forcefully that he was running for his adopted country, where he has lived since he was eight, and not for the land of his birth. When his autobiography was published in 2013 I was intrigued by its title – Twin Ambitions – and to discover that not only is he an identical twin, but he has twin daughters of his own and his brother Hassan is married to a twin. As he told an interviewer, ‘twins are in our blood’.
He is an unusual twin in that he has spent much of his life separated from his brother, for complex family reasons I need not go into here. Yet the first eight years of their lives when they lived together were clearly enough for them to form a very strong bond, as Mo explains in the opening paragraph of his book:
“People often ask me what it’s like to have a twin brother. I tell them: there’s a special connection that the two of you have. Like an intuition. You instinctively feel what the other person is going through – even if you live thousands of miles apart, like Hassan and me. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have a twin, but whenever Hassan is upset, or not feeling well, I’ll somehow sense it. The same is true for Hassan when it comes to sensing how I feel. He’ll just know when something isn’t right with me. Then he’ll pick up the phone and call me. Or I’ll call him. From the moment we were born, on 23 March 1983, we were best friends.”
Note that he only mentions instances where ‘something isn’t right’ with him, or when his brother is ‘upset or not feeling well’ but not when they are feeling fine and having a great time. His description of how the twin connection is felt is remarkably similar to the earliest such account I have been able to discover, the one given by Alexandre Dumas (below) in his novel The Corsican Brothers (1844) which was very probably based on the author’s first-hand experience:
“We had to be separated with a scalpel, which means that however far apart we are now, we still have one and the same body, so that whatever impression, physical or mental, one of us perceives has its after-effect on the other. Well, these last few days I have been feeling sad, morose and somber for no reason, and suffering terrible pangs. It’s clear that my brother is feeling profoundly sorrowful.”
Note that both Dumas and Mo only mention the telepathic signal as one conveying bad news. Hassan Farah will know when something ‘isn’t right’, while Dumas’ twin in Corsica picks up a ‘profoundly sorrowful’ message from his distant brother in Paris and reacts dramatically when he is killed in a duel. It’s always bad news; I have yet to come across an account of a good news message transmitted from twin to twin. Not one.
It’s tempting to speculate on what might have happened if Hassan Farah had been given the same chance to develop his running in Somalia that Mo had in England. Could there have been a dead heat in the 10,000 metre race at the Olympics? That would have made history.
There is at least one pair of sporting twins about whom we do not have to speculate since they already have made history. The Americans Bob and Mike Bryan (below) are said to be the most successful men’s tennis doubles pair of all time, the only one to have won all four major titles in the same year plus Olympic gold, as they did in 2013.
They are one of the minority of pairs who are known as ‘mirror twins’, one being left- and the other right-handed, which I am told means that they have much better coverage of the court than that of a pair of same-handed players. Commentators have also noted that it seems as if the Bryans play like a single four-armed entity, which their many defeated opponents might see as unfair competition. They have often used the taboo T word to describe their on-court rapport, although the Bryans have tended to avoid prolonged discussion of this emotive, much misunderstood and woefully under-researched subject. They seem happier to go on doing what they do best – provide evidence that they have something that non-twins don’t have, and win again and again.
I was interested to learn that although they have been winning doubles matches since they were six, they were never as successful on the relatively rare occasions when they played as singles. In their case, the whole is clearly considerably greater than the sum of its parts. As their college coach recalls, ‘I never got to where I thought of them as two separate people’.
Both twins are now married and live in separate cities. Yet when they get together for another game it is as if they merge their minds into a single entity and become so closely bonded that, as one of them has put it, ‘We’re one complete player, one complete person.’
And a complete person has no need for telepathy.
GUY LYON PLAYFAIR was born in India and educated in England, obtaining a degree in modern languages from Cambridge University. He then spent many years in Brazil as a freelance journalist for The Economist, Time, and the Associated Press, also working for four years in the press section of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The first of his twelve books, The Flying Cow, in which he described his experiences investigating the psychic side of Brazil, was translated into six languages and became an international best seller. His most recent book is Twin Telepathy. He now lives in London and is a council member of the Society for Psychical Research.
His books include:
If This Be Magic: The Forgotten Power of Hypnosis
The Flying Cow: Exploring the Psychic World of Brazil
This House is Haunted