Because the babies' hearts were beating simultaneously, doctors
had no idea Cheryl Barber was carrying twins. So after Cheryl
delivered Me'Lisa, who was two months premature and weighed just
two pounds, nine ounces, the attending physicians and nurses
began making their way out of the delivery room--until they
noticed that the fetal heart monitor was still beeping.
Forty-four minutes later, along came Mikele, all one pound, 14
ounces of her. That day almost 20 years ago marked the first
one-two finish for a pair of future track stars.
"We had to wait awhile for Miki," says Cheryl. "I guess she
wanted to make her own dramatic debut." Last week the Barber
twins from Montclair, N.J., made another explosive entrance,
leading South Carolina to a runner-up finish at the NCAA Indoor
Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. While
thoroughly confusing meet officials all weekend, the sophomores
were an unmistakable force in the 200 and 400 meters and in the
4x400-meter relay. They had a hand in all but nine of the
Gamecocks' 41 points, which lifted South Carolina to its
highest-ever NCAA track and field finish, indoors or out. UCLA
took the women's team title with 51 points. "Our goal is to set
records and bring home titles," says Me'Lisa, who goes by Lisa.
"We want to make South Carolina one of the greatest track teams
That would put the Gamecocks in a category with Arkansas, which
won its 16th men's indoor team championship in 17 years, thanks
in large part to senior Melvin Lister's victories in the long
jump and triple jump. The Razorbacks earned the title in front
of a capacity crowd of 5,350 in the school's new,
state-of-the-art Randal Tyson Track Center, where shouts of
"Whoooo, pig, sooey!" rang out more often than "Runners, take
In the meet's most memorable event, the men's 200, Clemson
senior Shawn Crawford held off Florida sophomore John Capel in a
photo finish. "Thank god my chest is two inches bigger than his,
'cause that was the difference," said Crawford, who got the win
and the American record even though both runners were timed in
20.26. (Crawford in fact crossed the line in 20.252, Capel in
Crawford, a two-time NCAA indoor champion in the 200 (he won his
first title in 1998), runs with a scowl that could melt steel
spikes. But he admitted his wasn't the meanest look on the
track. "One thing I enjoyed this week was watching the Barber
twins run," he said. "They look like they want to take someone's
head off when they race. I like that. In the next few years
those two are going to shock the track and field world."
It may not take that long. "The cage is open for both Lisa and
Miki," says South Carolina coach Curtis Frye. "It's up to them
to decide how far they want to fly."
Miki was certainly flying last Friday night when she won the 200
in 23.06. Lisa finished third. The next day in the 400 final,
Miki nearly fell after she was shoved by Texas freshman
Moushaumi Robinson as the runners broke to the inside lane
halfway through the race. The most amazing feat of the meet may
have been Miki's regaining her balance and bursting past
Robinson to finish second to Manhattan's Aliann Pompey, who won
in 52.21. After exchanging words with Miki in the staging area
(they made up with a hug), Robinson was disqualified for
impeding, which was scant consolation to Miki, who just missed
becoming the first runner, male or female, to win both the 200
and the 400 at an NCAA indoor championships. "I ran that so slow
I'm not even tired," a disgusted Miki said of her 52.50 time.
As if to prove her point, she went out two hours later and ran
the anchor leg in the 4x400 (which Lisa led off) in a blazing
51.6, though South Carolina finished second to Texas. If she can
duplicate that performance outdoors, Miki has a shot at making
the U.S. Olympic team in the 400 meters or 4x400. "Those two run
with such power and poise," says Arkansas women's coach Lance
Harter. "They have the whole world open to them right now."
Things didn't start that way for the twins, who had to stay in
the hospital in Montclair for two months, until each reached
five pounds. When the girls entered high school, their mother
insisted that they take up an extracurricular activity to stay
busy. The Barbers chose, of all things, the hiking club. They
quickly upgraded to track and field, and by their senior year
they had become high school All-Americas--Lisa in the 200, Miki
in the 400, and both in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
Physically the Barbers are nearly identical. Both weigh 114
pounds, and both can squat 320 pounds. But Lisa is more
flamboyant and competitive, traits suited to the shorter, more
explosive sprints. (Although she ranked third in the nation,
coming into the NCAAs with a 60-meter best of 7.28, she failed
to make the finals.) Miki is more introspective and has excelled
at the longer sprints, which require more patience.
At the 1998 New Jersey high school state championships the twins
squared off in the 200 final in a race Garden State track
enthusiasts still talk about. Lisa burst to a quick lead, but
with five meters to go Miki shifted into the extra gear that
defines her style and passed her sister to win in 24 flat. Lisa
crossed in 24.01. Lunging at the finish line, Lisa lost her
balance and tumbled to the ground, bruising and scraping herself
badly. "I was just soooo glad prom was already over," she says.
"[Miki and Lisa] were lambs off the track and lions on the
track," Montclair High coach Doris Ellis said then. "They are
just as nice as they are fast. They are one of a kind."
Well, not exactly. In November 1997, Gamecocks coach Frye signed
another pair of twin sprinters, Mechelle and Mikisha Lewis, from
Maryland. Frye is used to seeing double: His two oldest
children, Curtell and Curtis, are twins, and his wife, Wilma, is
also a twin. In the summer of '97, Wilma saw the Barbers at a
national junior meet and told her husband she had discovered an
"incredible" pair of twin sprinters he ought to recruit. "I
already know about them, dear," replied Curtis. It wasn't until
May of '98 that the Fryes realized they were talking about
different sets of twins. Curtis got the Barbers to come to
Columbia for a visit. Their first question was, "Do you have two
scholarships?" He did.
There are differences between the twins, of course. Lisa wears
her hair long and is majoring in marketing, for example, while
Miki has shorter hair and is studying journalism. But they room
together at school (they're suitemates with the Lewis twins),
and they stayed together in Fayetteville. When asked to name
their greatest similarity, Miki and Lisa blurt out in perfect
stereo, "We don't like to lose." Their dream, they say, is to
finish one-two in a race at the NCAAs or Olympics and then take
a victory lap around the track, arm in arm.
"We push each other when we're up, and we carry each other when
we're down," says Miki. "But the greatest thing about doing all
this together is that it's a lot more fun."
Twice as much, to be exact.
COLOR PHOTO: WALT BEAZLEY With a victory in the 200 (right) and a close second in the 400, Miki just missed a historic twofer.
"We don't like to lose," say Miki and Lisa in perfect stereo.