Drawing a line between them
The line between Tara and Dana Kirk was drawn -- literally -- with a roll of masking tape. Tara peeled it off herself, right down the middle of their bedroom in Bremerton, Washington.
"I was always the neat one," said Tara, who at 22 is two years older than Dana. "She was incredibly messy. The way she threw her clothes around, it got to the point where you couldn't see the carpet. With the line, I could just shove her stuff back on her side. Some of her piles were pretty high."
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"I'm really messy, but she's worse," Dana said, laughing. "She's neat to the point of ... I don't know what. She's incredibly anal-retentive. I mean, she organizes her books from smallest to biggest. And you should see her closet. She lines up her tops by sleeve length and color."
"Hey, I do not organize them by color, just by sleeve length," Tara insisted. "I'm not that bad. If she doesn't like it, she should stay out of my closet."
Of course, they will be roommates in Athens. They are the first sisters to make the same storied U.S. Olympic swim team. Their styles may differ -- Dana loves to talk, while Tara is more reserved -- but substantively they are very similar. After USA Swimming set up independent interviews with the two sisters, they called from Menlo Park, Calif., on separate cell phones within minutes of each other. For the record, Tara, the anal-retentive one, was first.
Tara's resum´ suggested she was a more logical choice for the Olympic team than Dana. Tara, afterall, had placed eighth in the 200-meter breaststroke in the 2000 Olympic Trials. A year later, she was the NCAA champion in the 200 breaststroke, setting an American record in the process. Before this year's Olympic trials in Long Beach, Calif., the Stanford senior won her fourth straight NCAA 100-meter title, giving her seven for her career. Tara was the winner of the Broderick Cup -- chosen over Connecticut basketball player Diana Taurasi, USC volleyball player April Ross and North Carolina soccer standout Catherine Reddick, among others -- as the nation's collegiate female athlete of the year.
At Long Beach, Tara placed second in the 100-meter breaststroke behind Amanda Beard on July 9, placing her on the Olympic team. Her younger sister was watching. Jayme Cramer, a fellow swimmer at Stanford, turned to Dana and said, "Your turn."
Dana, Class of 2006 at Stanford, had not posted her sister's lofty results. She had won bronze medals last year in the 100-meter and 200-meter butterfly at the Pan-American Games, but she was considered an outside threat, at best, at the Trials. Two days after Tara made the team, Dana won the 200-meter fly. Tara, watching on a monitor near the practice pool, was crying when she hit the wall.
"I get more nervous and excited for her races than I do for mine," Tara said. "It's just something you have no control over. As much as I want her to do well, I'm only a spectator. I can't go down and give her a push, so it's frustrating. I was so happy when she won. It was such a joy for her to make the team as well."
Said Dana: "You can always control what you do in swimming. But you have no idea about the other one. We both had confidence in ourselves, but when the other person made it, that sort of completed things."
Heading into the Trials, the Kirk sisters were one of three sibling combinations with a chance to qualify for the Games in Athens. Aaron Peirsol, 21, qualified in both the 100-meter and 200-meter backstroke -- breaking the world record in the later -- but his 18-year-old sister Hayley didn't make it in the 800-meter free, placing fifth. This, after they became the first siblings to win medals at the same world championships last July in Barcelona. The Kellers, another brother-sister act, were more fortunate.
Klete, 22, won the 400-meter freestyle (with an American record) and placed second in the 200-meter free. Kalyn, 19, also qualified in two events, the 400-meter and 800-meter free. Both are also likely to swim relays.
"I was more nervous for her than myself," Klete said after Kalyn qualified. "I can't believe it. I'm still shaking."
It was emotional for both of them because Kalyn had reached the final in both events at the 2000 Olympic Trials -- and failed to qualify. She watched as Klete broke the American record in the 400-meter free to win a bronze medal in Sydney and added a silver in the 800-meter free relay.
"I didn't want to stay home this time around," Kalyn said.
And so, America's swimmers will be represented by two sets of siblings for the first time since 1976, when Steven and Bruce Furniss and Jack and Shirley Babashoff all qualified. Now when Michael Phelps attempts his assault on the gold-medal record of Mark Spitz, don't forget about these gifted swimming siblings. Klete's challenge to medal is beating three of world's best swimmers, Phelps and Australians Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett. Kalyn will probably have to finish before fellow U.S. swimmer Diana Munz if she wants to medal. Tara Kirk's two chief competitors are Amanda Beard of the United States and Australia's Leisel Jones. Dana is a longer shot, facing favorites Otylia Jedrzejczak of Poland, Australia's Petria Thomas and Eva Risztov of Hungry.
"Dana beat the girl ranked No. 1 (Jedrzejczak) six weeks ago and, even though I'm not the favorite, I expect to do well," Tara said. "We'll both do better than we did in Trials. There's no point in going unless you're going to be better."
Unlike those other favored swimmers, however, the Kirks will have each other. When your training routine requires 60,000 to 70,000 yards a week, you better have some support.
"We have each other to thank for our success," Tara said. "We've come a long way on our own, but behind it all, there's a camaraderie in driving toward excellence. They say it's lonely at the top, but with Dana we can both be at the top of our thing.
"It makes a difference, I think, when someone is there to share in the pain."
Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.