At Federation Cup, identical twins make a mark as they soar over hurdles

Vithya and Nithya, 22, credit their tempo-driver father for encouraging them to take up track and field.

During the medal distribution ceremony for the 100 metre hurdles at the Federation Cup on Wednesday, officials were left confused because of similar sounding names of identical twins, one of whom had won the bronze.

At first look, it is difficult to tell apart 22-year-old Nithya Ramraj, the third-placed finisher, from her twin sister Vithya who is a medal contender in the 400 metre hurdles final to be held on Friday.

“It happens all the time to us. Sometimes the officials ask me why I am participating in more than two events mistaking me for my sister. At one junior meet, my sister got the best athlete award as the judges added my points to her tally. The stories are endless,” says Vithya, a 400 metre national camper.

The twins took up athletics in school on the insistence of their physical education teacher when they were in Class 5. After a couple of years, their father Ramraj, a tempo driver in Coimbatore, could not afford the fees at the English-medium private school. He shifted them to a government-run institution.

The move didn’t dampen their spirits, instead Nithya and Vithya went from strenght to strength on the track.

“Soon the girls started winning competitions. When they were going to Class X, many private schools were keen to enroll them. So was the case when it came to college education. Every college in the region wanted to rope them in because of their achievements in sports,” says Ramraj over the phone. Ramraj promises that he isn’t talking on the phone while driving. Ramraj works for at least nine hours a day and has no paid leaves. “I have just taken a short break to talk,” he says.

Vithya, who topped her group in the 400 metre hurdles heats, acknowledges her father’s sacrifice and says it spurs her to win medals.

The Ramraj twins share a very strong and inseparable bond. From the first standard till the final year of college they sat next to each other on the same bench. They had chosen the same subjects so they could be together.

“Once during shuffling of classes in school, Nithya was sent to a different section. I cried all day and my mother had to request the principal to put us back together. We love each other dearly and talk daily over video calls. We also plan to get married together on the same day,” says Vithya.

Officials would have had a tough time identifying one from the other if they were participating in the same events.

They are near-carbon copies of each other, sport similar hairstyles and are of the same height and built. Most of their mannerisms are similar. Even their voices aren’t a giveaway. Vithya admits that they have often taken advantage of being identical twins.

“Nithya is a little timid and doesn’t like to talk to people she has just met. So I have answered her phone calls pretending to be her on numerous occasions. In school, if she was late in submitting an assignment, I would go instead of her,” Vithya admits.

The twins admit in jest that they have wondered if they could replace each other in multi-discipline events like the heptathlon and fool everyone.

“If we do multi-discipline events we could and perhaps it would be difficult to figure out who is who,” Vithya says jokingly.

“Or maybe Nithya hides behind a banner and finishes the last leg of the longer race because she’s a sprinter. We keep making these plans (laughs),” Vithya adds.

Both Vithya and Nithya owe their success on the field to their father who has always backed them. When Ramraj decided to admit his daughters to a sports hostel in Erode, relatives didn’t approve of the decision.

“They said how can you let your young daughters join a hostel but I did not care. My relatives turned their backs on us when the twins were born. They were saying things like ‘how will I get them educated and married’. I am an uneducated driver but that does not mean my mindset cannot be progressive. I did not care about what others said and always backed my daughters. They have made me so proud and happy that all the riches of the world cannot compare to it. It’s very disheartening to see people with such narrow mindsets,” Ramraj says.

The Federation Cup was a reunion of sorts for the sisters who met after almost a year. The national campers have been kept in a bio-bubble and they are not even allowed to leave the National Institute of Sports premises without permission from competent authorities. Vithya talks about how emotional they were. “The moment I saw Nithya, I had tears in my eyes. She isn’t allowed to come to visit me in the hostel. We spoke to each other while maintaining all protocols.”

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