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With the Italian Alps as a backdrop, U.S. biathlete Tracy Barnes skis to a 58th place finish in the Women's 15km Biathlon race at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics Monday, Feb. 13, 2006, in Cesana San Sicario, Italy.
I said, ‘There is no way, Tracy. I’m not taking your spot. You earned it.’ We bantered back and forth, but she was very adamant. She said, ‘I know you can do this. I want you to race for me.’ —Lanny Barnes

Lanny Barnes tried desperately to hide her anguish as an untimely illness destroyed her Olympic dream last week in biathlon qualifying races in Italy.

Unfortunately there is one person from whom Barnes in unable to hide anything — her twin sister and teammate, Tracy Barnes.

“With Tracy, we’re so incredibly close that we kind of share emotions almost,” said biathlete Lanny Barnes. “I didn’t want her to see how disappointed I was. I knew my Olympic opportunity was over, but I wanted to be there for her, and I wanted her to keep her focus on what she needed to do. That was definitely hard, especially because I was not feeling well.”

After 31 years together, there isn’t much that the Barnes sisters, who live in Durango, Colo., don’t share. So while Lanny never expressed her despair, her sister felt it.

“She’s a very strong person, and she did her best to kind of hide her emotions during the trial,” Tracy said. “She didn’t want to bring me down. But I know her best. I know when she is hurting, and I could clearly tell she was upset.”

Which is why she decided before the trials had even ended that if she won the fifth and final spot on the 2014 U.S. Olympic biathlon team, she would give it to her sister.

“Surprisingly, for the weight of the decision, it was easy (to make),” Tracy said of giving up her spot on the Olympic team so Lanny can represent the U.S. one last time. “I personally believe she’s better than me. She would disagree, but that was part of my decision.”

The other part is that she wants to see her sister happy and fulfilled more than she wants to ski in the Olympics one final time in her career. Both women were 2006 Olympians, but only Lanny made the team in 2010. Tracy admits it was difficult to be a spectator, but it also gave her insight into how the women can share one Olympic experience.

“It was really tough,” she said of not making the 2010 Olympic team. “When you’re in this sport long enough, there are a lot of ups and downs, and you learn to ride it. You just focus in on the next goal.”

This time, the goals center around their lives away from national team competition. They hope to start a business in the spring, and Tracy is three classes away from her college degree.

“We’ll make the decision for sure in the spring,” Tracy said.

For Lanny, the pain of not making the team was exacerbated by the fact that she couldn’t give the competition her all.

“I think it’s harder not being able to compete,” said Lanny, who is still in Italy training. “When you go out and you give it your best, no matter what, regardless of the outcome there is a certain level of satisfaction. You tried, and it just didn’t work out. Not being able to show your potential makes it 1,000 times worse because you can’t compete. And that’s a lot worse than not making the cut.”

At the end of the four days of racing, Tracy had earned the fifth and final spot, while Lanny finished sixth overall. After the entire team participated in a conference call in which the five U.S. women biathletes were offered spots on the 2014 Olympic team, Tracy asked Lanny to do what they always do after tough training or a grueling competition.

“We always go on a walk or run and just try to decompress,” Tracy said. “We review the race and just talk. I asked her to go on a hike with me, and I told her I had something to talk to her about. We went on a hike in the mountains, and I told her my decision. She protested pretty good. She wanted to see me go. … Once I explained why I wanted to do that, she accepted it.”

Lanny said her sister, for once, surprised her with the gift.

“I said, ‘There is no way, Tracy. I’m not taking your spot. You earned it.’ We bantered back and forth, but she was very adamant,” she said. “She said, ‘I know you can do this. I want you to race for me.’ ”

And because the twins know each other so well, Lanny knew she could not talk her sister out of her decision. In fact, unbeknownst to Lanny, Tracy had called U.S. biathlon president and CEO Max Cobb and told him she would be declining her spot. The selection committee then named Lanny Barnes to the team in that fifth spot.

Lanny said there really aren’t words to describe the gratitude she feels for Tracy. She, maybe more than most, understands just what her sister gave her as they’ve trained together for nearly 16 years.

“I can’t,” she said when asked to put it into words. “I’m one of those people, when I hear the national anthem, I just get goose bumps. I think of the opening ceremonies and it almost brings me to tears. I’m just one of those hardcore believers in the Olympics, the Olympic spirit and things like that. This is huge. We’ve been fighting for this all our lives. Even before we got into the sport, we always had dreams of going to the Olympics. She gave me the greatest gift she could ever give me. I don’t know how I can repay her.”

How about an Olympic medal?

“I will do my best to bring home a medal for her,” Lanny said laughing. “I think that will be a good start.”

Tracy acknowledges that she’s sacrificing the very thing she and her sister have worked so hard to achieve. But she said she is at peace with it and is already trying to raise enough money to travel to Sochi, Russia, as a spectator where she hopes to cheer the loudest and longest for her sister and training partner. (There is a way to donate to her trip on their website http://twinbiathletes.com/Welcome.html.)

“I feel completely happy,” Tracy said. “I don’t think I’ll ever regret the decision. I’m really excited to go watch. … She could finish first or last, and I’ll be happy. It’s such a great experience.”

And it’s an experience, Tracy said, that spectators can share with athletes — even if they don’t share the same type of bond identical twin sisters enjoy.

“For every athlete who trains, the Olympics is the goal,” she said. “I have been to one before, and there is a lot more to the Olympics than the racing and trying to win a gold medal. A lot of what the Olympics is about is bringing the world together, bringing people together. It’s about competition, yes, but it’s also about friendship, camaraderie. … It inspires a lot of people who aren’t competing, who’ve never competed. That’s what the Olympics is about.”

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