Lexi and Tori Weeks are identical twins, but Lexi's personal record for the pole vault was nine inches better than Tori's best heading into the 2015 indoor track season.
Tori and Lexi Weeks are identical twins. The Cabot High School seniors have the same smile, the same blonde ponytail, the same DNA. In May, they will share honors as the co-Class of 2015 salutatorian. Fall and winter mark cheerleading season before they both take to the track in matching uniforms to compete in their shared signature event, the pole vault.
The Weeks are identical in every way except for their pole vault personal records.
Lexi opened the 2015 season as the nation's top returner; she cleared 14 feet in the spring and 13 feet, 6.5 inches indoors. As for Tori? Still a top recruit as the eighth-best indoor returner, but with a personal best nine inches back from her sister.
"The past couple years, she's been better and people come up and ask who's better," Tori said, "and that was always a little discouraging."
But at the Jack Frost Pole Vault Invite on Saturday, January 3 in Norman, Arkansas, it was Tori who set a new US #1 clearance for the first time in her career.
After two unsuccessful attempts at 12-6, Tori finally cleared the opening height on her third try. From there, it was her day as the senior finished the meet with a final clearance of 14 feet, 1/2 inch -- the top mark in the nation.
"Oh my gosh, I was so nervous," Tori said. "At first, I thought I was gonna 'no height'... since my sister cleared 14 feet last year, that was one of my big goals to beak that barrier. But I had no idea I was gonna do it this early in the season -- even at all. I had hoped to clear that high, but I didn't think it was a reality."
Not to be outdone, Lexi quickly followed suit and cleared the exact same mark -- 14 feet, 1/2 inch. The twins would finish the day with an equal share of the US #1 distinction, though Lexi technically won the meet.
The Week's club coach, Morry Sanders of the Arkansas Vault Club (AVC), was left nearly speechless. In nearly 15 years of coaching, Sanders has coached several athletes to national championships and US #1 marks.
"But never two at the same time. It's just so unique to have two twin girls tied for No. 1 in the country," he said. "The rivalry between them is really great because they're so competitive but so supportive of one another. It's really hard and I don't think people understand how hard it is to get not just one, but two, to jump well in a meet. Everything has to work out just right."
Sanders was no slouch back in his own competitive days. He finished his senior year at Lake Hamilton ranked No. 3 in the country and held the Arkansas state pole vault record at 16-8 for 17 years.
"We're competitive," Lexi said. "We obviously want to be number one. We want to win and at the same time we want each other to do well. The half inch PR [14-0.5] wasn't a big PR [for me]. But for Tori, when she PRed by nine inches, I think I was more excited for her than she was."
Lexi and Tori Weeks show off their shared US #1 mark of 14 feet, 0.5 inches at the Jack Frost Pole Vault Invite.
The twins have the same genes. But Tori finally figured out how to execute to near-perfection.
"I fixed my bottom arm," Tori said. "I used to not put so much pressure on my bottom arm. [This] allows me to hold higher on the pole and use a bigger pole, which gives me a little bit more oomph to get over the bar."
Tori uses a 14-step run, while Lexi gets a little more power with a 16-step run. Both are considered "longer runs" by Sanders, their coach since eighth grade.
"From a shorter run, 10 steps, they're just not running as fast as the speed of how fast everything has to happen," Sanders said. "[But], they're able to be real consistent from a short run. From a longer run, they don't hit the position very often. They might hit it ten percent of the time right now. When they can do the same thing from a long run that they do from a short run, there's gonna be some huge improvements that take place."
Right now, there are four Weeks eyes trained on Desiree Freier's year-old high school pole vaulting records. Freier, now a freshman at the University of Arkansas, cleared 14-7 last year at the IAAF World Junior Championships.
The Weeks are looking to become the first girls to clear 15 feet in high school history.
Sanders believes they have the gumption for such a feat.
"I'll be honest with you," he said. "I think both of them can jump 15 feet before they graduate high school. I've seen glimpses of what they can do when they do everything really well. They haven't gotten consistent at doing everything really well, but... their goal -- and, we talked about this -- is to finish the season ranked number one and two, or tied for number one in high school girls."
But in the finicky world of the vault, you can't get too ahead of yourself.
"Everything I preach to them is about the here and now," Sanders said. "We can't worry about what's gonna happen two bars later. If you go up to the meet and ask 'em -- 'what's your goal today?' -- it's make opening height, because they know they can't make any of the bars if they don't make opening height. We can't do anything about what happens three bars from now or when it gets to a record height."
Just where will they make their record attempts? They do not plan to attend New Balance Indoor Nationals, but hope to make an appearance at the Outdoor Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.
After their prep careers end, both will continue -- together, of course -- to compete for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, where they will be teammates with Freier. Both plan to major in Chemistry. After graduation? The twins share aspirations of pharmacy school.
But, until then, there's plenty of work to do.
"I think it's gonna change the mentality a little bit [now that they're tied]," Sanders said. "Before, Lexi had a little bit of a cushion over Tori and that didn't keep her from working hard but in the back of her mind, she knew she was a little bit better than Tori, and Tori -- she knew she was a little bit behind.
"Now they're gonna be working to see who has the best DNA. I mean, its gotta be tough to know that your main competition shares the same DNA as you. I can't imagine what that feels like... They know that they better have their day, otherwise, the other one's gonna beat 'em and I love that."