All systems go

Delta High School cross-country runners Clarissa Whiting, right, and her identical twin sister Cleo, left, have had a standout season this year for the Panthers and will next compete in a 4A regional meet Wednesday in Delta.


They entered the world indistinguishable. They hope to end their high school cross country careers the same way.

Meet the Whiting twins. So close in their standout speed and slender appearance and extreme intelligence, the Delta High School identical twins developed what they call “The System,” a running strategy that, in part, helps prevent them from becoming rivals. At the state cross country meet Oct. 27 in Colorado Springs, The System will make its final bow.

They plan on crossing the finish line simultaneously. Hand-in-hand if necessary.

“I want to make it as hard as possible for them to figure out who’s first,” said Cleo, the younger twin by one minute.

But first, The System will make an appearance Thursday at the Class 4A Region 6 meet at Delta’s Confluence Park, a meet that includes Palisade, Montrose and Rifle. The System is simple, really. They decide beforehand who is allowed to win. But with exceptions. It’s a twin thing.

“The System is that we are as fast as each other,” Clarissa said. “We train with each other. Sometimes Cleo gets ahead of me during intervals, sometimes I do, but we know we’re as fast as each other.”

It’s part of what keeps them together. The system helps squash any feelings of superiority. In track season, the twins divvied up events: The 1,600-meter run was Clarissa’s to win; the 3,200 belonged to Cleo.

And their parents, meanwhile, don’t fiddle with The System.

“I don’t want anything to come between them,” said the twins’ father, Tom Whiting. “They’re the twins. We don’t understand what being a twin is about. That’s a decision they have to make.”

Both have 4.0-plus grade-point averages.

Cleo specializes in English and the French horn.

Clarissa, a tad shorter than Cleo, excels in math and science, and plays percussion and piano.

But who cares about comparing? Not The System.

And not in school. In science, both stay after class. The last two — always. Assignments to double-check. Details to confirm. Then a thank you and goodbye.

“That’s very rare,” said Delta science teacher Joe Mock, the twins’ Advanced Placement chemistry teacher. “They sit together and just work extremely diligently for the whole period. ... I think they’re competitive in a way that they push each other to be better.”

Last month, a Delta school announcement let students know that at Ridgway State Park, Clarissa and Cleo “continued their domination, finishing first and second.”

“We’re extremely proud,” Mock said. “They’re phenomenal students, they’re great athletes and great people.”

Did you know they dance?

“They’re also ballet dancers,” the twins mother, Suzette Jones said. “They’ve done a lot in their 18 short years.”

On Sept. 29, at Connected Lakes State Park, both ran season best times. Clarissa ran an 18:30.8 at the Anna Banana Invitational, while Cleo ran an 18:46.4.

But like the savviest of systems, flaws occur. Bugs. At the Anna Banana, the system slated Cleo to win. But Cleo’s feet weren’t so fleeting. A shock to The System.

Clarissa kicked away.

“That didn’t make me feel bad or anything,” Cleo said.

And sometimes they make sure competitors don’t feel bad, either.

“After one home cross-country meet,” said Delta athletic director Greg Hawkins, “they stood and waited for every single participant to finish, and they greeted them. One was exhausted, and they walked her all the way to their team to make sure they were OK.”

The system, it seems, is about more than just the Whitings.

But don’t get it wrong: The System was developed by the Whitings. Developed to help them win.

Wait until state, where Clarissa finished ninth last year, and Cleo was 38th. Five of the runners who finished ahead of Clarissa were seniors.

“We’re going to get out fast, stick together, and just really use each other to block people to make sure they’re intimidated,” Cleo said, “to make sure if they’re going to pass us, they’ll have to fight both of us.”


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