“He knows when I’ve hurt myself and I’ll know if he’s upset even if we’re not together,” says Leonie Gerken Schofield when describing her ‘telepathic’ relationship with 22-year-old twin brother Tom.
The pair could become Team GB’s first Winter Olympic twins come Beijing 2022, which starts in a year’s time.
“There will be times when one of them begins singing and the other goes ‘oh, I was playing that in my head’ and I’m like – ‘hold on a second!'” says 21-year-old sister Makayla.
That “special inner connection” the twins share is fascinating, but the Chelmsford-born Gerken Schofields are a formidable trio who, based on results last season, are all genuine contenders for next year’s Games.
They compete in the ski discipline called moguls, which involves skiing down a steep course covered in moguls (bumps), demonstrating technical turns, speed and aerial manoeuvres.
“It would be amazing and really special for us all to be there,” says Tom, who in March last year became the first Briton to win a moguls World Cup medal, with silver in Russia.
Only once before have three siblings been selected for the same British Winter Olympics squad – curlers Eve, Thomas and Glen Muirhead in 2018.
However, Glen was an alternate and did not actually take to the ice at the Games, which means the Gerken Schofield’s could make history in China.
Tom and Leonie were “mad” about ice hockey as children, as their father had played the sport, but with no rink in the French town of Chatel, where the family moved in 1995, the twins took to the slopes instead.
“We were loving the ski lessons, but our instructor saw us jumping around and he told our parents to sign us up to a freestyle club, which is where we were introduced to moguls,” Tom tells BBC Sport.
While the elder Gerken Schofields loved it immediately, Makayla says she cried when at the age of 10 she first tried the “scary” moguls event – although she was desperate to overcome her fear and challenge her siblings.
Trio opt for GB instead of France
Having been brought up on the other side of the Channel since Makayla was six and Tom and Leonie seven, all three could potentially have chosen to line up for France.
Decades of underfunding in lesser-known winter sport disciplines has seen potential British athletes such as Ben Cavet (moguls skiing) and Jonathan Learoyd (ski jumping) slip through the system and go on to represent France at recent Olympics.
Happily, the emergence of the Gerken Schofield trio coincided with a revamp of GB Snowsport’s programme and the launch of their mission to become one of the world’s top-five Olympic and Paralympic snowsport nations by 2030.
Funding body UK Sport’s decision to grant GB Snowsport unprecedented flexibility with their funding allocation has enabled GB Snowsport to invest in emerging sports like moguls, cross-country skiing and ski cross, on top of the higher-profile freestyle disciplines.
“There was some talk about whether we would or could represent France but we didn’t know how long it would take for us to get our French nationality, and then GB approached us,” says Leonie.
The siblings concede they are “fortunate” to be able to walk to the slopes from their family home in Chatel, but say GB Snowsport’s support has made a real difference.
“It’s helped massively because people don’t realise just how expensive travel, competing and equipment can be as an athlete in this sport,” says Makayla.
“Even getting sponsors can be hard because now not even results are enough and they’re asking how many followers you have on social media, which is difficult when a lot of people don’t know what moguls skiing is.”
In order to be guaranteed places at next year’s Games the Gerken Schofield skiers must be ranked inside the top 30 in the world at the end of the qualification period, which runs until 16 January 2022.
The cancellation of numerous events amid the coronavirus pandemic and continuing uncertainties around the Beijing Games have made the 2020-21 campaign “challenging” for the family though.
“It’s been crazy,” says Tom, who has been completing personal training and nutrition courses with his twin sister during prolonged periods without competitions over the past 12 months.
“Last season I finished on a high which got my hopes up for this season, but half of the World Cup tour has been cancelled due to Covid which has made things really hard.”
Makayla admits she finds the current situation “quite stressful” and says the family are having to revise their plans “day by day” given the ever-changing sporting landscape.
They are, though, choosing to remain optimistic, and for Leonie, who was unable to compete much between 2017 and 2019 after tearing knee ligaments, dislocating her shoulder and breaking the L1 vertebrae in her back, reaching Beijing would be “absolutely amazing”.
“The injuries meant I had no chance of making the last Olympics, but I’ve always been determined and believe nothing is impossible,” she says.
“Qualifying would be incredible but to do it along with my brother and sister would be a dream come true.”