Because the babies' hearts were beating simultaneously, doctors had no idea Cheryl Barber was carrying twins. So after Cheryl delivered Me'Lisa, who was two months premature and weighed just two pounds, nine ounces, the attending physicians and nurses began making their way out of the delivery room—until they noticed that the fetal heart monitor was still beeping. Forty-four minutes later, along came Mikele, all one pound, 14 ounces of her. That day almost 20 years ago marked the first one-two finish for a pair of future track stars.
"We had to wait awhile for Miki," says Cheryl. "I guess she wanted to make her own dramatic debut." Last week the Barber twins from Montclair, N.J., made another explosive entrance, leading South Carolina to a runner-up finish at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. While thoroughly confusing meet officials all weekend, the sophomores were an unmistakable force in the 200 and 400 meters and in the 4 x 400-meter relay. They had a hand in all but nine of the Gamecocks' 41 points, which lifted South Carolina to its highest-ever NCAA track and field finish, indoors or out. UCLA took the women's team title with 51 points. "Our goal is to set records and bring home titles," says Me'Lisa, who goes by Lisa. "We want to make South Carolina one of the greatest track teams ever."
That would put the Gamecocks in a category with Arkansas, which won its 16th men's indoor team championship in 17 years, thanks in large part to senior Melvin Lister's victories in the long jump and triple jump. The Razorbacks earned the title in front of a capacity crowd of 5,350 in the school's new, state-of-the-art Randal Tyson Track Center, where shouts of "Whoooo, pig, sooey!" rang out more often than "Runners, take your mark."
In the meet's most memorable event, the men's 200, Clemson senior Shawn Crawford held off Florida sophomore John Capel in a photo finish. "Thank god my chest is two inches bigger than his, 'cause that was the difference," said Crawford, who got the win and the American record even though both runners were timed in 20.26. ( Crawford in fact crossed the line in 20.252, Capel in 20.257.)
Crawford, a two-time NCAA indoor champion in the 200 (he won his first title in 1998), runs with a scowl that could melt steel spikes. But he admitted his wasn't the meanest look on the track. "One thing I enjoyed this week was watching the Barber twins run," he said. "They look like they want to take someone's head off when they race. I like that. In the next few years those two are going to shock the track and field world."
It may not take that long. "The cage is open for both Lisa and Miki," says South Carolina coach Curtis Frye. "It's up to them to decide how far they want to fly."
Miki was certainly flying last Friday night when she won the 200 in 23.06. Lisa finished third. The next day in the 400 final, Miki nearly fell after she was shoved by Texas freshman Moushaumi Robinson as the runners broke to the inside lane halfway through the race. The most amazing feat of the meet may have been Miki's regaining her balance and bursting past Robinson to finish second to Manhattan's Aliann Pompey, who won in 52.21. After exchanging words with Miki in the staging area (they made up with a hug), Robinson was disqualified for impeding, which was scant consolation to Miki, who just missed becoming the first runner, male or female, to win both the 200 and the 400 at an NCAA indoor championships. "I ran that so slow I'm not even tired," a disgusted Miki said of her 52.50 time.
As if to prove her point, she went out two hours later and ran the anchor leg in the 4 x 400 (which Lisa led off) in a blazing 51.6, though South Carolina finished second to Texas. If she can duplicate that performance outdoors, Miki has a shot at making the U.S. Olympic team in the 400 meters or 4 x 400. "Those two run with such power and poise," says Arkansas women's coach Lance Harter. "They have the whole world open to them right now."
Things didn't start that way for the twins, who had to stay in the hospital in Montclair for two months, until each reached five pounds. When the girls entered high school, their mother insisted that they take up an extracurricular activity to stay busy. The Barbers chose, of all things, the hiking club. They quickly upgraded to track and field, and by their senior year they had become high school All-Americas—Lisa in the 200, Miki in the 400, and both in the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relays.
Physically the Barbers are nearly identical. Both weigh 114 pounds, and both can squat 320 pounds. But Lisa is more flamboyant and competitive, traits suited to the shorter, more explosive sprints. (Although she ranked third in the nation, coming into the NCAAs with a 60-meter best of 7.28, she failed to make the finals.) Miki is more introspective and has excelled at the longer sprints, which require more patience.