By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lanny Barnes is heading to the Sochi Olympics with all the incentive in the world after her twin sister gave up her own spot in the biathlon to let her compete for the United States.
Lanny narrowly missed out on a place in the American team for Sochi after she fell ill last month and was unable to compete in the final qualifying events.
But she was given a reprieve when her 31-year-old twin sister Tracy, who did make the team, pulled out to let Lanny go in her place.
"Usually I always know what Tracy is thinking, and she shocked me. I didn't see this coming," Lanny said in an interview with NBC on Thursday.
"I was like, ‘Tracy, there's no way. This is your spot. You earned this.'
"She was very adamant about me going and she said, ‘No, I want you to go.' It was a very emotional moment for both of us," Lanny told NBC's "Today" program.
The two Colorado sisters competed together at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin but only Lanny made the U.S. team for Vancouver in 2010.
Tracy earned her spot on a second Olympic team when she qualified as the fifth-best American, one place ahead of Lanny.
But with only the top five allowed to go to Sochi, Tracy opted to sacrifice her position so her sibling could instead grab the last spot.
"She's having a great year, and I think when you care enough about someone you're willing to make that kind of sacrifice," Tracy said.
"I think right away when I heard she got sick because I knew that the likelihood of her making the team was pretty slim being sick.
"I've trained with her for 15 years right alongside her. I know how hard she works. I know how much she wants it."
Lanny said she was grateful to her sister for giving her another opportunity after conceding her chances of making the team had been all but ruined by illness.
"It was brutal," she said.
"It's hard to explain how you can train so hard for something and luck just wouldn't have it your way. It was disappointing for sure."
And although she is a long-shot to win a medal, Lanny said her sister's gracious act had given her added motivation to try and get on the podium at the February 7-23 Games in Russia.
"I want to do my best for Tracy, and I always do better under pressure," she said.
"So I'm definitely going to push as hard as a I can and just fight that much harder for her."
Tracy said she had no regrets about her decision, which has quickly become one of the rare feelgood stories of an Olympics dominated by security fears.
She said she knew how hard her sister had trained for the grueling sport, which combines cross country skiing and shooting.
"All of us who are training for something like that, that's your dream, that's your goal, that's what you work towards," she said.
"I think I felt so strongly about this, and that outweighed any effort that I wanted to do to go to Sochi."
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; editing by Julian Linden)