Spot the difference: why the Averina twins are not as identical as they look

Dina and Arina Averina are the dominant figures in rhythmic gymnastics and have swept all individual titles at the European Championships but the Russian sisters have very different personalities.

By Rory Jiwani

Since 2017, the Averina twins have wowed audiences around the world.

Dina and Arina also dominated the European Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan sweeping all individual titles between them.

But while the Russians look almost identical, the pair are keen to talk about how different their characters are.

Q: Can you describe your sister in one word?

Dina: Angel.

Arina: Demon.

Russian rivalry

After the retirement of Russia's Rio 2016 gold medallist Margarita Mamun and runner-up Yana Kudryavtseva, the Averina twins have taken over at the top along with another Russian, Aleksandra Soldatova.

All three dazzled the crowd in Baku, which hosts the World champs in September.

With World Games, World Championship, and European Championship gold medals already to their name, the 20-year-old sisters are looking forward to bidding for Olympic glory.

Tokyo 2020 will most likely be their only Games but, with just two athletes from each country allowed in the competition, Rio reserve Soldatova could deny one of them a spot in Japan.

Starting out

Inspired by big sister Polina, the twins started rhythmic gymnastics at the age of four.

If they had not been drawn to the carpet, the pair could well have been competing on an ice rink instead.

"If we weren't in gymnastics, we would be doing figure skating." - Dina Averina told European Gymnastics

The sisters made rapid progress over the years and, as teenagers, moved to the Novogorsk Olympic Training Centre near Moscow run by Russia head coach Irina Viner-Usmanova.

They made their first big step into the world of senior competition at the 2017 European Championships in Budapest, taking two individual golds apiece and gold in the team event with Soldatova.

The pair were picked for the 2017 World Games ahead of Soldatova and dominated almost completely in Wroclaw, Poland.

It was Arina - Arisha to her friends - who came out on top as she and Dina finished one and two in the hoop, ball and ribbon.

Arina Averina competing in the ball final at the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw, Poland

Her only blip came in the clubs where she took bronze with Dina claiming the gold.

Weeks later at the World Championships in Pesaro, Italy, Dina led the way with three golds - including the all-around title - and two silvers.

Arina was the only athlete to beat her, in the ball and the ribbon, and she also went home with two silvers and a clubs bronze.

Olympic champion Mamun was full of praise saying, "They are very strong and their show is like 'Cirque de Soleil' on the carpet. And at the same time they have their own personalities."

First disappointment

But they experienced contrasting fortunes at last year's World Championships in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.

Arina suffered a major setback in qualification as she put a knot in her first ribbon and then her replacement broke.

Although she was able to drop that score from the all-around qualification, Arina finished third behind Dina and Soldatova.

With a maximum of two gymnasts from each country going through to the final, Arina was the one to miss out.

Dina went on to retain her all-around title and won three more individual golds with Soldatova taking the ribbon crown.

Arina only managed bronze in the hoop but did claim team gold with her sister and Soldatova.

"There has never been any rivalry, quite the opposite. We support each other. If one doesn't succeed then it's up to the other one to raise the Russian flag." - Arina Averina

While that was their first real disappointment in the senior ranks, Arina says dealing with negative results is just part of the job.

"With our head coach Irina Viner-Usmanova and our personal trainer Vera Shatalina, and the psychologist who works with us, we sit together everyday. We analyse our mistakes, what went wrong and why it happened."

The Averinas have quite different personalities, as they explained in a recent interview with European Gymnastics.

"We have completely opposite characters. I'm softer while Dina is more tough. We have different faces, voices, eyes, subtleties and, in my opinion, different figures. We move differently too." - Arina Averina on the differences between her and twin sister Dina

Dina admitted, "In the past I was more ruthless. I looked at everything in a negative way.

"In the last two years, I've started to see more the positive side. And I've become softer and kinder and gentler."

Team Averina

They may have different personalities, but the Averina sisters are very much a team.

They even have their own pre-contest ritual.

Dina: Before going out to compete, Arina and I stand together and look into each other's eyes...

Arina: And we say a few words and go out on the carpet.

And every detail surrounding their routines and how they will be performed is worked out as a pair.

Arina said, "We decide absolutely everything together - Irina, Vera, our main choreographer Irina, and us. We get together, we think how to perform the routine and choose which music would suit best."

That teamwork is something they feel they could not do without with Dina saying they will probably quit rhythmic gymnastics at the same time.

"It would be tough to do this on your own, going to the competitions, training, all without that support. That would be more difficult" - Dina Averina

Unsurprisingly, the Olympics is their "main goal" and they have not yet decided whether to continue after the Tokyo Games.

But they are pretty sure they will not be competing in five years' time.

Dina: I think my future will not be linked to gymnastics. I won't become a coach because I see how difficult that is. You spend the whole day in the gym... I think after my gymnastics career I would simply want a break from all of that!

Arina: We will be studying, I think. I want to study economics.

Perhaps phone manufacturers would want to use them to test their products with the Averinas proving too identical for face recognition software.

Dina recalls, "Arina and I said, 'Let's try it'. I took her phone and unlocked it with my face. And Arina can unlock mine. It was really upsetting!"

There are minor differences - Dina has a slightly thinner and straighter face while Arina has a scar above her right eye caused by a falling club.

They also both have small moles on the right side of their faces with Arina's just below her earlobe and Dina's higher up next to her ear.

Right now, the focus is on September's World Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, and proving to Viner-Usmanova that they should both go to Tokyo.

Arina: The most important things are to stay healthy, be patient and listen to your coach. Trust her and then everything will work out.

Dina: And also, love what you do. The most important thing is that you enjoy it.


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