Two of a kind in many ways: An interview with twins Jacob and Omar El Aida Chaffey 

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Identical twins Jacob and Omar El Aida Chaffey with whom am in difficulty in recognising one or the other, are the two interviewers of the day. The best part of it is that they are both highly competitive, reaching the finish line close to each other and if it were not for the bib number, the issue of identification would surely arise!

Jacob and Omar El Aida Chaffey have now become prominent names in Local Athletics thanks to their consistency and high performances. Omar, you were awarded Best Intermediate of the Year 2017 whilst Jacob, you were freshly crowned the National Champion in both the 100m and 200m. Jacob and Omar, this is just an introduction of what you both managed to achieve irrespective of the young age of 16. What effect does it leave on you Jacob, that you managed to win the enviable double 100m and 200m in the National Championships in the Open Category? You had to battle it out against much more seasoned athletes and yet you won hands down, stupefying us all and with great times! You were close by 0.02 of a second to set a new NR. Your reaction for all this.

First of all thank you Mr. Scicluna for this opportunity, great initiatives like these encourages us as athletes and also help to promote the sport.

Jacob – The National Championships this year was definitely one to remember. In the heats I clocked 10.97, after that race I was very surprised because I really didn’t think that I would go under eleven seconds in the heats. I found it a bit difficult to keep my calm in between races, because I was very excited for the Final. When I saw the registered time, I couldn’t believe it, I really didn’t think that I could get 10.82 at all at that point. After the race I felt a bit strange because I wasn’t as happy as I thought I would be. It seems that I could not believe what I had just achieved until I went home and couldn’t sleep with all the joy and adrenaline I had. It was always one of my goals to become Senior National Champion, but I didn’t think it would be this early.

The 100m Under 20 National Record was really not the aim that day and considering that I have 2 more years to break it with 0.2 seconds to go, I try not to pressure myself a lot. Hopefully the time will come in the near future.

As for the 200m I was not that nervous but, I was hoping to dip under the 22 second mark. After the boost I had had the day before, and considering that I had my brother racing with me this time, I was looking forward to the race. I did not expect to win this event too, but I was focused and won with a time of 22:03. Dipping under the 22 second mark came later during COJI games in Sicily.

All in all, these National Championships were extremely satisfying for me personally because I had always dreamed to achieve what I did and prove that all the training was all worth it.

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Omar and Jacob, both of you enjoyed a remarkable season with personal bests and coming close to national records too. You represented Malta at high level several times this year, please share your experiences abroad and your feelings pre and post races. Any pre-race jitters or you managed to handle the situation with certain peace and tranquillity? During the past years, both of you competed against the crème de la crème at International levels even indoor when you were in the heat with the World Record Holder 60m Christian Coleman and veteran Kim Collins who at the age of 40 managed a 9.93 in the 100m!! What was your impression contrasting such World Champions?

Indeed, this season was substantial for both of us, where we had some relatively progressive performances. This was also a new experience for us having to race for the first time in an indoor track, which is what we wish to have here in Malta. However, our main focus was on the European U18 Championships where we accompanied each other in Gyor, Hungary.

Omar – We had a lot of competitions this season and focused mainly on the 200m race. Last year, I managed to clock 22.45 in the World U18 Championships in Kenya where I automatically qualified for this year’s European U18 and also repeated the same time locally earlier this year. I then lowered my PB during COJI with a time of 22.33 and 22.25 in Nationals, which was a great sign that I was heading in the right direction. I got another PB again in the Heats with a 22.02 in Gyor, where I was happy I qualified for the Semis. However, the ultimate goal for this season was to go under 22 seconds which I instantly knew was hard to repeat or even go lower than that, but that is what I strived for in my last race of the season in Gyor. I carefully followed the recovery procedures instructed by my coach so as to make sure I get the time I wanted. The day after, prior the Semi-Finals, I was extremely agitated and excited but I managed to stay focused and finish the race. As I approached the stands I could hear my parents say I clocked under 22 with a super PB of 21.86 with legal wind. I was extremely content I got the desired time and will continue to push myself to even go lower.

Jacob – This year was an exceptional one, we visited a lot of places like Belgium, Italy and England where we prepared ourselves for much higher events.

I had the chance to go to the World Indoor Championships in Birmingham. I was in the stands watching the races while constantly checking if the start list was out, and when it was finally out I just couldn’t believe that my name was sandwiched between Kim Collins and 60m World Record Holder Christian Coleman. From watching them on TV at home early before school each day, to racing against them especially at the age of 16 is something that I thought was nearly impossible … it was a dream come true! I was not as excited as I thought I would be before the race, until I went into the call room, sat down and started listening to the voices of these icons. When I went into the stadium the scene was extraordinary –  watching all those people made me feel amazed. After a false start by another athlete in my Heat,I clocked 7.09. I had wished to clock another sub 7 second performance but the special experience was enough.

I will definitely treasure this experience throughout my life as it really affected me not just as an athlete but also as a person.

Later this year, after the National Championships I had the chance to compete with my brother at the Under 18 European Championships in Hungary which was one of the main targets planned for this year. After the 22.00 seconds I clocked in the 200m heats I didn’t think that I could go lower the next day in the Semi Finals, but I managed to clock a 21.60 illegal wind which really surprised us because it is difficult to repeat the same time after less than almost 16 hours let alone lower it with 0.4 seconds. This was also a confirmation that all the training and the training-competitions that we had paid off in the end. We were over the moon with the results and I feel that it helped both of us a lot that we accompanied each other during this competition. I feel that the motivation and the pre-race talks with my brother helps both of us to perform at our best.

24 hours after my arrival in Malta from Hungary I was on my way to the World Under 20 Championships held in Tampere, Sweden. This was another exceptional experience for me to be able to see other younger idols of mine and compete against them.

I am grateful for this season so far and am currently preparing myself for the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina this October. I feel that competitions like these teach me a lot and help me motivate myself in my athletic career.

You are very young and you are advancing to second year 6th form. So far both of you managed to cope with studies and athletics. One of the most incredible things that I observed a year or so ago was that you competed on the Day of the O level exams, sat for the exams and soon after returned to Marsa for a training session! How is this possible? You should not simply love athletics but there’s more if someone is expected to go through all this!!

It’s a matter of time management and sacrifice, but above all, our parent’s patience and time where they encourage us and do whatever they can to help us succeed in our athletic career. An example is that they drive us to and from places when they can and prepare healthy food and snacks for us. Despite the slight time we have during weekdays, especially during the exam season, which was in parallel with the preparation for the European Under 18 Championships, we managed to do certain training which consisted of short training sessions but effective enough to keep us improving and clocking good times instructed by our Coach Mark Farrugia. These sessions consist of certain training which can be done at home. We feel that because we accompany each other most of the time we find the difficult scenarios to be a bit easier. It can be stressful sometimes especially during exam season, but we are sure that with some sacrifice and certain training sessions one can succeed in both.

Indeed, once during our Physics O Level exam, we first went for first paper then later competed in National Championships, where we did Personal bests, then afterwards we went for our Paper II exam and finished off the day with some more training at Marsa. It was a stressful day but we were happy that we managed to do it, together with our father driving us from one place to another. This goes to show that during exam time it is important that one does not stop his athletic season to focus only on academic studies. It is important to balance both of them and adapt to the circumstances. We managed to get a good grade in our Physics exam!

You are well disciplined, well mannered, distant from limelight and sponsors and yet you are achieving so much. You attended St Michael School, a Church school which embraces discipline and manners. Do you think this school was a great tool to form your characters? Did you find a great difference at the Junior College? How did the transition process go? Was it quick to adopt to a new reality? How are your studies going? Both of you made another swap from football to athletics, how about that?

We sincerely thank you for the kind words. Above all, this reflects our parent’s work and encouragement as they do their best for us to succeed in all means. Choosing St Michael School for our secondary education was a very good choice. Here we were surrounded by loving and caring people who prepared us to be kind, humble and diligent students and also encouraged us in every way to pursue our goals. It surely was a different element when we started at Junior College as this was a larger school with a different study system. We managed to cope with the different system, however it can’t be compared to the loving atmosphere we had at St. Michael School, which still encourages and congratulates us in our achievements. At the moment, we are studying Pure Mathematics and Computing as A-Levels and Philosophy, English and Physical Education as Intermediate Level at Junior College.

We used to do a lot of sports when we were very young, firstly introduced by our parents. We used to train football for 10 years with Birzebbuga Windmill Football Club Nursery, practiced swimming for 7 years and also tried other sports like: Handball, Basketball, Weightlifting with Starmax and also gave Regatta and indoor rowing a try. The main transition however was from football to athletics. Football was interfering with athletics as we were encountering some injuries in football. We then found out our potential in athletics and decided to pursue our talent in athletics with Starmax.  It wasn’t an easy decision but then we realised we can go further in athletics than football in Malta and also go to World level. At a young age it is good to try a lot of sports which can help you develop and also increase your experience in different sport entities, however at a certain age one needs to find a sport which he wants to progress in due to time and injuries.

You form part of Starmax, a small club too and you train by yourselves. Do you find this as advantageous or limiting your full potential? At times, we all know, we end up in a comfy zone quite easy during training so I guess more athletes to compete with during training can help, do you agree or so far since the system worked handsomely in twos, it’s fine?

We started training with STARMAX under Coach Mark Farrugia around 8 years ago and during our training sessions we never felt that we were limited to perform our best due to lack of competition. Rather STARMAX has introduced us to a lot of people, not just local athletes but also foreign athletes from different cultures, which we feel helped us a lot during training.

We found that our club has prepared us a lot not just physically but also mentally by following other STARMAX Athletes like Coach Thomas Farrugia, Nicole Gatt and Josann Attard Pulis who also had their own mark in Athletics here in Malta. Their experiences have helped us both to overcome circumstances we come across during our athletic career.

Most of the times you are seen together and it is visible to all that you bode well with each other.  There is a strong bond indeed. How do you feel each other’s absence? Do you do everything in couple or each one his own? What are your ambitions for the future in athletics and in your career?

We do most of the things together because we share the same passions. We train together, we have the same group of friends, and we have always been in class together in school except for this year. Everyone needs their ‘alone time’ sometimes, but when for example one of us is abroad we feel a bit distant from each other. Last year, when we both were abroad for different competitions, was the first time that we were apart from each other for 3 weeks. We could only communicate with each other via our phones. Not having your twin brother who you used to have pre-race talks with and share most of the time with, makes it hard sometimes, especially during competitions abroad alone.

We feel that we have an advantage because we understand each other perfectly and we can relate so much with each other especially during training. We joke with each other, help each other and push each other during training to try to get the most of our training sessions.

We wish to pursue a career in computing outside of athletics in the future.

Our dream is to maybe one day share our Olympic experience together!

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