Even in rowing, in which New Zealand has such a distinguished history, Caroline and Georgina Evers-Swindell were special. The twin sisters won double sculls world titles in 2002, 2003 and 2005, and Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008. That’s beside the small matter of three other world championship silver medals and a bronze.
Georgina and Caroline Evers-Swindells went three seasons without defeat and were so dominant that other rowers chose different events to steer clear of them at major championships.
They were tagged the Ice Maidens by their overseas opponents, because they seemed impervious to pressure and gave nothing away. But they were quiet achievers, even if their years at the top have boosted their profile in New Zealand.
They grew up on the family orchard outside Hastings. Attending Rudolf Steiner School, they were virtually inseparable, playing in the same netball, basketball, cricket, badminton and hockey teams.
When she was 14 Caroline, the younger twin by four minutes, decided to try rowing. The agreement was that Georgina would not go near the sport until Caroline was a New Zealand representative, thereby ensuring that the girls carved separate niches.
Caroline was in the New Zealand squad within two years and Georgina followed her into the sport. Georgina said her rapid elevation to the national squad was because the selectors thought one twin was pretty good, so the other one might be as well.
On leaving school they moved to Christchurch, coming under the tutelage of former Olympic gold medallist Gary Robertson. During their two seasons in Christchurch they became good senior rowers, generally in fours and eights crews. Caroline made the New Zealand junior world championship team in 1995 and Georgina a year later.
Then they shifted to Cambridge, studying at the University of Waikato. The reason for the move north, though, was to train at Lake Karapiro under the eye of expert coach Dick Tonks.
The results soon came. In 2000 they narrowly missed selection for the Sydney Olympics. Caroline, a better single sculler - though Georgina has set the 2000m indoor rowing world record - pushed Sonia Waddell close for the single sculls berth. In the double sculls the twins scored an impressive World Cup victory at Vienna, but at the Olympic qualifying meet at Lucerne, finished third when a top two placing would have got them to Sydney.
In Sydney as spectators, they were happy to see Rob Waddell win the single sculls gold medal, but were frustrated at not being able to compete and left determined to prove themselves.
They won two silver medals at the 2001 world championships in Lucerne, in the double sculls and, with Waddell and Paula Twinning, in the quad sculls. This earned them the Halberg Award. Ironically, they were unable to repeat the honour in succeeding years, in each which they were a plethora of world and Olympic titles.
From 2001 the twins rowed almost exclusively in the double sculls, though at home they assisted their Hamilton team-mates to win national titles in every event available.
At Seville in 2002 they won their first world title in commanding fashion and they repeated the effort at Milan the following year.
Then all eyes were on the 2004 Olympics. In the notes supplied to the media before the final at Athens, the New Zealanders were described as “the Michael Johnson of their sport”. Though they were hot favourites, they handled the pressure superbly, holding off a strong challenge from Germany.
At Gifu in 2005, the sisters were part of New Zealand rowing’s greatest day, when four New Zealand crews won world championship gold medals in one afternoon. Though they had lost a race earlier in the season – their first reverse since 2001 - they were far too good at Gifu.
After 2005 they slipped back to the rest of the world, finding the Chinese scullers especially formidable. However, they still managed to grab a world championship bronze medal at Eton in 2006 and a silver medal at Munich in 2007.
To outsiders, the twins, who refer to each other as George and K, are mirror images. In fact, Georgina is bigger and more ebullient. They were incredibly competitive with each other, but gelled perfectly on the water. Tonks said: “They’re entirely different scullers, but complement each other and meet in the middle.” Tonks also coached Rob Waddell, and described the twins as “more consistent and harder working”.
Following years at the top of their sport, the Evers-Swindells not surprisingly became popular public speakers and were sought by sponsors and advertisers.
At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the sisters won one of the most fantastic finals in Olympic rowing history, beating the German double by a mere 0.01s, 7min 07.32s to 7min 07.33s. The New Zealanders, who were only third or fourth favourites going into the final, drew on their years of training and their international experience, and muscled their way to victory in a race they led for just one stroke and for less than a second.
It was the first time in Olympic history that the women's double scull title had successfully been defended. The twins carried the New Zealand flag at the closing ceremony.
The Evers-Swindells announced their retirement from rowing in October 2008.
They were twice the International Rowing Federation’s female crew of the year, in 2003 and 2005. They were made officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005. They were awarded the Lonsdale Cup in 2003 and again in 2005, when they shared the honour with their team-mates at Gifu, and in 2008.
In January 2009, Georgina Evers-Swindell married Sam Earl, a former New Zealand rower. She changed her name to Georgina Earl.