Trying to distinguish between the Gee twins has become the unofficial board game of Sports Festival VI.
“Lisa is the one with her ears pierced,” whispers a lady spectator. “No, now, let me think . . . I’m sorry, I don’t want to steer you wrong. I better not say.”
A man, overhearing the conversation, chimes in: “No it’s easy. Lisa wears her hair parted to the left.”
“No,” rejoined the woman. “I was told Lisa has red shoes, and Diana the white. So that hair thing doesn’t make sense at all. Now, I’m sure about the jewelry. Try that.”
When he hears the story, Bob Tretheway, of the United States Table Tennis Assn., laughs and scratches his head.
“There’s only one sure way to tell them apart,” Tretheway said, pausing for effect. “I ask them.”
The double riddle from San Carlos, Calif., came into the world on Dec. 21, 1968, less than one minute apart. The gap has been narrowing ever since.
“We are trying . . . " said Diana, the elder sister and third-ranked player in the nation and top-seeded player at the Festival.
” . . . to be individuals,” said Lisa, ranked eighth in the nation and fourth here. “We don’t even wear . . . “
” . . . the same clothes,” said you know who.
Tuesday morning, the double-takes were in triple figures when the pair of right-handers squared off in the final match of round-robin play, Diana edging Lisa in three closely contested sets.
The Gees, who are also the United States’ No. 1-ranked doubles team, met again in the gold-medal final Tuesday night, Diana winning in four sets.
“We have invited both girls to come to our facility in Colorado Springs,” Tretheway said. “They will live and go to school there for nine months and work with Henan Li Ai, the No. 1 developmental teacher in China, who came to the United States two years ago. Her husband, Liguo Ai, wrote the textbook that the Chinese coaches use.
“We hope that by providing this kind of environment it will ultimately upgrade the American programs. Diana and Lisa both have excellent potential.”
The girls practice against each other for four hours a day, perfecting a variety of shots and trying to master the precise footwork necessary to create a power or finesse game.
But there is a certain element of futility involved, something like standing in front of a mirror and trying to outsmart yourself.
“We are best of friends off the table,” said Lisa, whose ears aren’t pierced. “But on the table, I do my best to beat her. We play so much against each other, that this is good to play in a tournament with players from around the country, to compete against players who use different styles.”
Diana, wearing red tennis shoes, agreed.
“In table tennis, if we just played each other, we’d never improve. See, I know Lisa can’t all of a sudden be a hitter. You can’t just change in the middle of a tournament. I’m a hitter, and she’s a looper, more of a finesse player. So we both know what we’re going to do.
“That’s why it’s important for U.S. players to go to Europe, to play in Pan-Am competition because you get to react against something you don’t see every day.”
Diana’s most recent excursion was to Sweden and Norway, where she competed successfully in several junior tournaments.
Lisa’s most memorable trip was to Cuba in 1984. There, in front of a hostile crowd, she rallied from a 20-16 deficit, staving off quadruple match point, and eventually pulled out a victory to give the U.S. women’s team the gold medal in the Cuban Invitational.
“It was crazy because it was the fifth set,” Lisa said. “I was really hyper and nervous, but I looked over at my teammates and they were really (going crazy). And the girl I was playing against was a wild animal. I didn’t like her at all.
“That was exciting to come back and win. It was great.”
The United States will send a team to Seoul for the 1988 Olympics. With the stepped-up training program and intense preparation, there is a strong chance both of them could make the team.
However, too much Gee may create a double dose of trouble in the Far East.
“Excuse me,” a man says. “I saw you talking to the Gees for about a half-hour. Which one is which, can you tell me?”
The reporter scratches his head and laughs.
“To tell you the truth, the best way to tell them apart is to ask.”