24 January 2022

Sporty siblings: Sportsister talks to Laura Kenney

February 19, 2010

Does fitness run in your family? You don’t have to look too hard to find examples of successful sporty siblings: everyone knows the awesome Williams sisters, then there’s Christine Ohuruogu and her sister Victoria (also a sprinter), Juliet and Jane Doyle (twin track stars) and Kate and Rachel Walsh (hockey players).

laura-kenneyIs having a sporty sister a help or a hindrance? Does the relationship foster healthy competition or sibling rivalry? How do sisters in the same sport help each other?

We caught up with distance runner Laura Kenney to ask her what the benefits have been of growing up with a younger sister who also runs.

“Both my sister Olivia and I got into running because of my dad,” Laura told us. “Running is in our blood. He encouraged us to join the local running club.” Laura and Olivia’s Dad is Paul Kenney, a 2:17 marathoner who once came second to Steve Ovett at national level cross country.

For years, Laura and Olivia trained together, enjoying the chance to chat during an easy run or support each other through tough sessions. In recent years, they’ve travelled to meets together, and even ended up on the podium (for different events) at the same meet. “That was really nice,” Laura said. “It was in 2006, at the cross-country championships. I was racing in the U23 race and Olivia was in the U20, and both teams won. It’s unusual for two siblings to win gold at the same championships.”

Sibling rivalry?

There was never any rivalry between the two. “I don’t think there was any real problem caused by both of us running at a similar level,” said Laura. “There was friendly rivalry, of course, but that’s healthy. I think it probably helped Olivia raise her game, because she had something to aim for. In fact, at one BUSA cross-country race, she did overtake me and finished ahead of me, but then said she felt really guilty!”

Having grown up as one of two distance-running sisters, does Laura think that having a sporty sibling helps performance? “Olivia and I did train together a lot. The best thing about having a sister who does the same sport is that you always have a training partner you get on with. We definitely motivated each other.”

Sport also brought the pair closer. “Sisters always have common ground, but running brought us together,” Laura said. “We’d always put the world to rights on an easy recovery run. If I was feeling down or nervous, I’d know that Olivia could empathise. And I felt I could help by giving her advice about training trips or overseas meets, because usually I’d have been there previously.”

Tough times

The only problems ever arose when one sister was injured. “At the cross-country trials one year, we were both supposed to be racing but I was injured. Olivia qualified for the juniors but I had to watch from the sidelines. It wasn’t a problem – I was happy for her – but it was hard to watch knowing I couldn’t run. But we’ve always supported each other. Nothing’s changed now: she supports me as a runner and I fully support her dedication to her career.”

Just as Laura is stepping up her training, focusing on the 2012 summer Olympics and 2014 Commonwealth Games, Olivia is backing off, choosing instead to focus on the closing years of her medical studies. Has this caused any friction between the pair?

“It’s been a hard choice for Olivia, because endurance running is in our blood, but she made the choice and picked a career in medicine. She’s seeing that through and working hard. She still enjoys running – she recently finished 8th female at the Birmingham Half Marathon in 1:24:30 – but she’d prefer to be a Doctor. She’s running for fun now, and doesn’t mind that I’m making a career out of it.”

Laura’s breakthrough moment came when she won the 5000m at the European U23s championships in 2007 and she won the Inter-Counties cross-country in 2008. Her aim is to carry on succeeding as she moves towards major senior titles. “In 2012 I’ll be 27,” she said, “and getting towards my peak as a distance runners. By the 2016 Olympics I’ll have even more racing and training under my belt.”

Laura’s tips for distance running

Most important physical feature: Strong heart and lungs for endurance

Most important psychological feature: Self-discipline and focus in complete all your training sessions

Most important factor in a race: Determination to keep going til the very end

Most important bit of kit: Can I choose two? Trainers are an obvious one: I wear orthotics so I need a neutral shoe. But a good bra is just as important for us ladies. I am proud to wear Shock Absorber’s new RUN bra – it’s supportive (reduces bounce by 78%!), anti-chafe and has anti-slip straps which helps me focus on my performance. As far as I know, it’s the only sports bra on the market which is has been specifically designed for running.

Nicola Joyce, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

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