Behind the USA, Norway are the team most fancied to become the first ever women's Olympic soccer champions. An unusual feature of the Scandinavian team: the twin sisters Nina and Anne Nymark-Andersen.

It is only after a closer look and getting to know them a bit that you might realise the two are twins, for externally they are quite different. In the World Cup winning Norwegian women's team line-up, Anne is the one with short blond hair, her sister wearing hers long and dark.

"As twins we are very close, but that doesn't mean we always dress alike or have to do everything together," says Nina. "We are good friends but we have our own personalities," she adds, stressing that she is not a carbon-copy of her sister, nor vice versa.

It was not difficult for the twins and their three years older sister to get into football. As is the case all over Norway, it was the normal thing to do. "We've always kicked a ball around, at school or afterwards with our friends. When I was eleven I joined the big club near our home in Bergen, IL Sandviken," is how Anne recalls the early years, and within days her sister had joined up too, and this would be a pattern for their future careers. "I just went along too and from the first moment I really enjoyed it, there was a good atmosphere at Sandviken. It's still that way today. But the real push into playing football certainly came from my sister," recalls Nina.

In this atmosphere the girls developed their talents and later became stars. After playing in the girls' national team, they advanced into the U-20 side and from there into the women's national A team. The number of appearances documents that Anne was always a couple of months and a few matches ahead of her sister. "It always helped me that Anne was already there. I never felt like a stranger," says Nina. It was the same in the national team for a while, even though Nina now has five more caps to her credit. "Anne was injured, I wasn't," explains Nina, who has always played in defence, for Sandviken and at the various national levels, because "at that time, the club always needed defenders".

Next target: Olympic gold
National coach Even Pellerud says of the sisters' characteristics: "My twins are completely different in terms of both playing style and personality. I wouldn't like to lose either one." Nina is regarded as the more aware player and more of a leader, always in a good mood. "She reads the game well, stops her opponent simply but effectively; she is very fast but not so technically gifted. Anne is a very calm player, acts more slowly, but has the edge in terms of technique. She is very important to our system, with her running on and off the ball." In the national team Anne plays in midfield, in Bergen she is a forward. Last year when Sandviken won the cup for the first time(and there the cup is rated higher than the league championship), she scored eleven goals. At last this well balanced team, also coached by Pellerud, won a long overdue national honour.

On the international scene, the Nymark-Andersen girls had tasted success already. They won the European Championship in 1993 in Italy, and Anne is particularly proud of the goal she scored in the semifinal against Denmark. Then last summer they earned the title of world champions. "That was great," Anne beams at the thought and smiles as she adds "after the European title and the world title, I'd be delighted to win gold at the Olympics, but that will be hard. I think the USA and Germany are as strong as we are." But her twin is more definite: "I believe we can get the gold." Anne still lives with their parents in Bergen. "I like living at home. I have all my friends nearby, Sandviken is a good football team, I like the country there. Why should I move away?' she asks.

Training with men
But Nina left two years ago. She met her boyfriend on holiday, and has moved to the far north to Tromso, way up into the Arctic circle, where she feels very much at home. "It's not as cold in winter as you might think, but we do get masses of snow. Only the dark winter days can be a bit depressing. But the other side of the coin is the superb summer, when the sun never sets. I hardly ever sleep. The greatest thing is going out fishing in the sea at night. That's an experience that is hard to describe," she enthuses. After Floya Tromso was relegated from the national league in 1994, Nina still wanted to play international football so she kept her residence in Tromso but returned as a player to Sandviken. Since then she trains every day with the men's junior team (17-21) at the top level club IL Tromso (where Sweden's national coach Tommy Svensson was once in charge) and flies to Bergen at the weekend for matches. "Training with the men is good for me as a defender. I'm becoming faster."

Her profession is often listed as "chef", a term that has caused some overseas correspondents a bit of confusion. The reason is that she did an apprenticeship as a cook, and now works together with three colleagues in a small cafe. And there is a lot to do: she is involved in everything from preparing a variety of fresh fish specialities as well as in waiting tables and doing the washing up. Sister Anne is still studying. After she finishes her exams next year she will become a teacher for children of pre-school age. And football will certainly be part of the curriculum, as befits a winner of European and world championship medals. And if Norway win the Olympic gold too, then she and Nina will well have earned the right to be called the most successful twins in the world of football.