WASHINGTON — Lanny Barnes is heading to the Sochi Olympics with all the incentive in the world after her twin sister gave up her own spot in the biathlon to let her compete for the United States.
Lanny narrowly missed out on a place in the American team for Sochi after she fell ill last month and was unable to compete in the final qualifying events.
But she was given a reprieve when her 31-year-old twin sister Tracy, who did make the team, pulled out to let Lanny go in her place.
“Usually I always know what Tracy is thinking, and she shocked me. I didn’t see this coming,” Lanny said in an interview with NBC on Thursday.
“I was like, ‘Tracy, there’s no way. This is your spot. You earned this.’
“She was very adamant about me going and she said, ‘No, I want you to go.’ It was a very emotional moment for both of us,” Lanny told NBC’s “Today” program.
The two Colorado sisters competed together at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin but only Lanny made the U.S. team for Vancouver in 2010.
Tracy earned her spot on a second Olympic team when she qualified as the fifth-best American, one place ahead of Lanny.
But with only the top five allowed to go to Sochi, Tracy opted to sacrifice her position so her sibling could instead grab the last spot.
“She’s having a great year, and I think when you care enough about someone you’re willing to make that kind of sacrifice,” Tracy said.
“I think right away when I heard she got sick because I knew that the likelihood of her making the team was pretty slim being sick.
“I’ve trained with her for 15 years right alongside her. I know how hard she works. I know how much she wants it.”
Lanny said she was grateful to her sister for giving her another opportunity after conceding her chances of making the team had been all but ruined by illness.
“It was brutal,” she said.
“It’s hard to explain how you can train so hard for something and luck just wouldn’t have it your way. It was disappointing for sure.”
And although she is a long-shot to win a medal, Lanny said her sister’s gracious act had given her added motivation to try and get on the podium at the Feb. 7-23 Games in Russia.
“I want to do my best for Tracy, and I always do better under pressure,” she said.
“So I’m definitely going to push as hard as a I can and just fight that much harder for her.”
Tracy said she had no regrets about her decision, which has quickly become one of the rare feel-good stories of an Olympics dominated by security fears.
She said she knew how hard her sister had trained for the grueling sport, which combines cross country skiing and shooting.
“All of us who are training for something like that, that’s your dream, that’s your goal, that’s what you work toward,” she said.
“I think I felt so strongly about this, and that outweighed any effort that I wanted to do to go to Sochi.”
GAY SKATER WEIR OPPOSES POLITICS IN SPORTS
As an openly gay American athlete who is a self-confessed Russophile (an admirer of Russia or its people), Johnny Weir feels he has been caught up “in a crossfire” for not backing a boycott of the Sochi Olympics in the wake of the country’s anti-gay policies.
Yet the flamboyant figure skater, who had hoped to compete in next month’s Winter Games until his aching body let him down, is adamant that an issue that affects a minority group should not ruin a “lifetime of sacrifices” made by thousands of athletes.
“I’ve come under so much hate and scrutiny from within my own LGBT community for my views on the Olympics,” two-time Olympian Weir said in a telephone interview from his home in New Jersey.
“But as somebody who watched my parents sacrifice everything so that I had at least one chance of making the Olympics, I could never boycott the Olympics whether they be in Pyongyang (in North Korea), in Uganda, in Iran or Mars.
“I would have competed there because my whole life has been about going to the Olympics. Being gay isn’t something that I chose, being gay is something I was born into.
“But being an Olympic athlete was something that I chose and something I worked hard for and I’ll see it to any necessary end.
“The entire Olympic team is not made up of LGBT people. It’s people who’ve sacrificed their livelihoods, it’s people who’ve sacrificed their parents’ finances and health and sometimes even marriages to get that one chance at glory.
“As an athlete who’s lived it, I could never turn my face to that. While equality is necessary all over the world, the Olympics is not the place for me to make a stand.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended the nation’s laws, which include a ban on the spread of homosexual propaganda among minors.
Gay rights activists are hoping athletes and others use the Feb. 7-23 sporting extravaganza in the Black Sea resort as a venue for protest.
Weir, a three-time U.S. national men’s champion, is adamant that politics and sports do not mix.