The annual Ironman Triathlon on the island of Hawaii is no one’s idea of fun: a 2.4-mile ocean swim, followed by 112 miles of biking over rolling hills, topped off by a full (26.2 miles) marathon run. Add hot, muggy weather, and you’ve got a major league torture test.
The highlight of last fall’s Ironman was the emergence of two rather remarkable Ironmaidens—Sylviane and Patricia Puntous, both 23, identical 5-foot, 6-inch, 125-pound twins from French-speaking Canada. With a time of 10:43:36, Sylviane was the first woman (140 of the 939 entrants were women) to cross the finish line. Patricia came cruising along six minutes later, to finish second in the women’s division.
“They totally destroy the competition,” says Ray Charron, director of the Mighty Hamptons Triathlon, held in Southampton, N.Y., where the twins won the women’s division last June. “They’re cute and sweet off the course—but they have a lot of men running scared because no one yet knows what they are capable of.”
Hyperbole, perhaps. With a winning time of 9:05:57 in the Ironman, male triathletes are not exactly hearing feminine footsteps at this point. Yet there’s no doubt that the twins are pretty poison to their female competitors. One or the other twin has won 10 of the 12 triathlons they have entered since August 1982, and most of the time they crossed the finish line simultaneously. Although they have not actually done so hand in hand, as racing circuit rumor would have it, they have on occasion waited for one or the other to catch up.
The sisters are just as close off the race course and even finish each other’s thoughts, which they express in fractured English. “People are always trying to find a best friend,” says Patricia. “But we don’t have to,” adds Sylviane, “because we are each other’s best friend.”
Born in Montreal to immigrants from France—papa Puntous works for the Quebec Highway Department, maman is a waitress—their involvement in sports began early. “When we were 6,” says Sylviane, “our mother wanted that we learn to swim.” Two years later they began competing. At 16 they abandoned swimming and turned to track, running cross country and middle-distance events. By 18 they were enrolled in the University of Quebec, majoring in physical education.
The twins began running marathons, but in 1981 Patricia developed tendinitis in her heels. Under doctor’s orders, she gave up running. “I stop for three months,” says Patricia, “and I thought, ‘Boy, I have to keep my shape.’ We had heard of the Ironman and triathlons, and I decided to swim again and learn to bike.” Nodding at Sylviane, she adds, “She do the same thing.” Their first triathlon was in Seattle in August 1982, only six weeks after Patricia started running again. How did they do? “We won,” they chirp in unison.
The twins hope to compete for the Canadian marathon team in the Los Angeles Olympics. (The triathlon is not yet an Olympic event.) Meanwhile, they live in a one-bedroom guest house in Bass Lake, Calif., the scene of September’s national triathlon championship. Between training sessions, they read French novels and watch TV. Although they would like to marry one day, “We don’t think about marriage now,” says Sylviane.
Perfectly understandable. Foremost in their minds, no doubt, is a twin killing in their next triathlon.