From the time they entered the world two minutes apart, Javier and Oscar Molina shared everything: bunk beds and a bathroom, honors classes and sports teams.
For much of their 18 years, the Commerce twins have also shared a passion for boxing, and a dream of competing in the Olympics.
Now they are one step away from sharing a trip to Beijing -- with a historic twist. If they perform as expected in this week’s qualifying tournament in Trinidad, they would become what are believed to be the first twins to compete for different nations at the same Olympics.
“Since we were small we always thought about going to the Olympics,” Javier said. “But never like this. It’s a little weird.”
Javier became the United States champion at 141 pounds at the Olympic trials last August. But because the brothers and their family have vowed that the twins would never have to fight each other, the slightly heavier Oscar stepped up to box 152-pounders at the U.S. championships in June. Encountering a weight disadvantage, he lost by a point in his first bout and never reached the trials.
The fraternal twins are American citizens by birth whose parents emigrated from Mexico.
But because Olympic rules allow athletes to compete for the homeland of their parents, Oscar faced a choice: Try again in 2012, or try to make the Mexican team right away.
“Four years,” said his father, Miguel. “A lot can happen in four years.”
So Oscar decided to push ahead. By the time of the Mexican trials in December, he had grown into his higher weight, rolling through all five of his opponents to win his spot on the Olympic team.
“This wasn’t handed out to us,” said Oscar, who has been training in Mexico. “We fought for this like anyone else. We earned this. But it’s a little weird. Seeing him on another team and I’m here in Mexico.”
In the melting pot that is Southern California, where many families keep their home in one country and their heart in another, the twins’ rare accomplishment has drawn little notice.
“Until people started bringing it up, in all honesty we never thought about it,” said Roberto Luna, the twins’ coach at the Commerce Boxing Club. “Someone might not like the idea that they’re both from the United States and one of them is representing Mexico. We never looked at it like that. We always looked at it as a boxing opportunity.
“For us, it was just about the Olympic experience.”
Wayne Wilson, a researcher with the LA84 Foundation in Los Angeles, said he could find no other twins who have competed for different countries in the same Olympics -- although siblings have done it, most notably in 1996 when middleweight wrestler Elmadi Jabrailov, of Kazakhstan, beat his brother Lukman, competing for Moldova. “You can’t prove a negative,” Wilson said. “But I haven’t been able to find any others.”
Oscar’s trip south came decades after his parents made their way north. Hailing from the northern state of Chihuahua, his father arrived in California in 1971 and -- overstaying his legal visitor’s document -- eventually found work in a curtain factory.
There he met Gloria Casillas, a small-town girl from the west-central state of Jalisco who had entered the U.S. illegally on her 22nd birthday, hidden under the hood of a truck alongside two other family members.
“I don’t want to remember that,” said Gloria, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen five years ago.
Her son is far from the first athlete to traverse national boundaries in search of Olympic glory.
Five of the 11 boxers on Mexico’s 2008 Olympic team -- including 19-year-old Javier Torres, who is also coached by Luna -- live permanently in the U.S. And it was another Mexican Olympian who trained at Commerce, Francisco “Panchito” Bojado, who first inspired the Molinas’ Olympic dreams.
“Ever since we saw him our goal has been to go to the Olympics,” Oscar said of Bojado, who fought in Sydney in 2000 before turning pro.
The Commerce Boxing Club’s small but tidy gym is tucked in the corner of the Bristow Park branch library in a gritty working-class neighborhood next to the Santa Ana Freeway.
Homemade signs, drawn by the preschool class of a former Commerce boxer, are taped to the walls in tribute to the twins’ accomplishments. Yellowed newspaper and magazine clippings tacked to several bulletin boards celebrate the success of other national champions who have trained there.
Luna, who trained at Commerce before he took over the gym, knew the Molina brothers were a rare pair when they first walked in a decade ago.
“They were just energetic little kids,” he remembered. “They were tough, humble, nice kids. [But] when I started working with them you could tell right away they had something special. They were talented from the very beginning.”
Their pedigree was certainly good. Their father had dabbled in boxing in Mexico. The twins also have an uncle and two cousins who boxed. One, Jorge Gomez Jr., competed internationally for the United States. And older brother Carlos, 22, recently turned professional, winning his only two bouts.
“It just runs in the family,” Javier said from Colorado Springs, where he is training with the U.S. team. “Since we were little kids we would always just watch my older brother train. [We] would go in the ring and start messing around, sparring. When we were about 8 years old, we started getting really serious.”
Javier won his first fight at 9, his first age-group nationals at 11, then went on to win three national Silver Gloves titles, two Golden Gloves crowns and a Junior Olympics championship before a surprise victory over former national champion Karl Dargan helped vault him onto the Olympic team.
Oscar took a similar route, winning his first fight at 8, then winning two Silver Gloves, three Golden Gloves and one PAL national title.
In youth football, baseball and soccer the twins had always stuck together. Also in the classroom, where both have been honors students at John Glenn High in Norwalk. They shared a bedroom in their family’s small three-bedroom home.
“Until now,” their father said, “they’ve never been separated.”
Except in the ring, where the boys frequently spar but will never be allowed to fight.
“They’re both my sons and I don’t want that one should win and the other lose. I want them both to win,” Gloria said.
“That’ll never happen,” Carlos added. “We’re all brothers. That comes before anything.”
Although to reach Beijing the brothers first must place high in this week’s Olympic qualifying tournament in Trinidad, or in the final Olympic qualifier next month in Guatemala City, Luna is already planning ahead.
“God willing, we go to the Olympics, I’ll be having the United States flag in one hand and the Mexican flag in the other,” he said. “Javier is going to be cheering for Oscar. And Oscar is going to be cheering for Javier.
“It’s not about anything but just getting to the highest place in boxing.”
Or maybe it is. Miguel Molina, 59, a Mexican citizen and permanent U.S. resident who has spent most of his life in Los Angeles, said the last few months have led him to a new definition of what it means to be Mexican American.
“We’re Mexican, but we’re here and this country has helped us a lot,” he said in Spanish. “We like how it is: One from here, one from there. They’re fighting for the two countries. It’s a tie and it makes us proud.
“For me, there aren’t two teams,” he added. “There are two sons.”