All-American athletes are few and far between. Twin All-Americans on the same team are downright extraordinary. The women’s cross country team is lucky enough to find such a dynamic duo.

Identical twins Kate and Laura O’Neill, both of the Class of 2003, lead a strong Bulldog squad attempting to improve on last season’s seventh place finish at the NCAA Championships.

So far this season, Kate and Laura have picked up where they left off last year, when they both earned All-American honors for finishing 31st and 32nd, respectively, at the NCAA Championships.

“They are two of the top three [runners] in the league,” head coach Mark Young said. “After last season’s performance, I look for them to finish in the top 20 or 25 at this year’s NCAAs.”

In the Bulldogs’ opening varsity meet this season, Kate finished third out of 238 runners with a time of 20:46.4 at the 2001 Iona Meet of Champions at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, N.Y. Laura ran to a 12th place finish, 17 seconds behind her sister. Strangely enough, the only runners to beat Kate on that day were Boston College juniors Cate and Megan Guiney — also twin sisters.

At the annual H-Y-P race Oct. 6 in Princeton, N.J., Kate and Laura blew away the field, leading the Bulldogs to a commanding victory over the Tigers and Crimson. Kate set a new course record as she scampered over the 5,000-meter course called the Princeton Battlefield in 17:19. Laura finished second, six seconds behind her sister.

At last Saturday’s NCAA Pre-Nationals meet in Furman, S.C., the twins led the Elis to a ninth place finish out of 37 teams. Kate again led the way for the Elis as she finished 12th in the 246-person field with a time of 21:11. Laura finished just under half a minute later in 24th place.

Needless to say, opposing teams and their top runners must prepare themselves for a long day when they face the Yale harriers.

“The twins are clearly a blessing for us,” Young said. “They have fairly similar styles. They apply constant pressure and are extremely tough mentally. They won’t lose — you have to beat them.”

Despite the twins’ recent running achievements, Kate and Laura had an inauspicious beginning to their athletic careers. Neither found a niche in high school in Milton, Mass., until they both decided to join the cross country team.

“Kate and I joined the cross country team because we weren’t very good at any other sports,” Laura O’Neill said. “Within a week or two, we both loved cross country.”

Kate told a similar story.

“I am very uncoordinated,” she said. “I decided to give running a try, and I am so glad that I did. I loved running in high school. College has been more of the same.”

Despite their relatively late starts in the sport, Kate and Laura quickly developed into finely tuned running machines. Using hard work, strong tactical race plans and on-course intelligence, the twins have an answer for nearly every situation.

“They are smart runners, meaning that common sense and mastery governs their racing styles,” captain Millie Grinstead ’02 said. “They have an impressive way of sticking to their race plans, even during the race. Their race plans leave room for permutation — they run what is appropriate for the meet.”

As the twins have developed into two of the most dominant runners in the Ivy League, they have depended on each other to spur themselves onto greater heights.

“Kate is my best friend,” Laura O’Neill said. “We work as a team while we still compete against each other. We aren’t vicious competitors; we just push each other to do better.”

Kate said she enjoys her sister’s company on the course.

“I don’t like running alone very much,” Kate O’Neill said. “Laura and I work well together. It is always easier to motivate yourself when you have someone to run with and push you to improve.”