Meet the Prefontaine lookalike twins who caught the eye at the Cardiff Cross Challenge and are aiming to make an impact at the Euro Cross trials in Liverpool
George and Charlie Wheeler are a striking sight when they’re in full flow. With their blond hair and moustaches, the twin brothers share a passing resemblance to Steve Prefontaine. They don’t simply look the part either but are backing it up with some fine running results recently.
At the Cardiff Cross Challenge on Saturday (Nov 11) they finished fifth and sixth overall in the men’s race and were the second and third best Brits behind Zak Mahamed. Not surprisingly, onlookers were forced to do a double take as the Wheelers whizzed past on their way to taking the scalps of, among others, Marc Scott and Matt Stonier.
George pipped Charlie at the finish line in Cardiff with both given the same time. It was a rare victory for George over his brother because Charlie has dominated lately with a 5000m PB of 13:25.62 compared to George’s more modest 13:47.26. “I like to think I’m far closer to Charlie now,” he tells AW.
There is a sliver of sibling rivalry, but the 25-year-olds enjoy training together and have no ill-feeling if they finish second best on a particular day. “This will be the last time George beats me for a while, though,” Charlie grins.
The duo run for the Milton Keynes Distance Project and have recently returned from stints at separate American universities. Charlie studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while George was about 1200 miles away at Lamar University in Texas. “Charlie was really cold and I was really hot!” says George. “I got a lot better out in the US but in the last year I’ve caught Charlie up and we’re sort of neck and neck now. Cardiff is my first ‘better race’ for a while.”
They got into running by doing parkruns during their early teenage years, but they showed no great talent to begin with. “We’ve been running since we were about 13-14,” Charlie explains. “We joined the local club (Marshall Milton Keynes) after doing a couple of parkruns but were pretty average or bad club runners.
“We never made the English Schools on the track and in my last year I made the top 100 of the English Schools in cross-country for the first time and was really happy with that.”
When he started running around a decade ago Charlie was only 299th and 257th in his first two English Schools Cross Country Championships, while George similarly struggled to make his mark.
Charlie then went to Loughborough but didn’t particularly thrive there. “Then Covid hit,” he says. “But I was lucky to go to Wisconsin to do a Masters. “It really brought me on a lot. I went from being a 14:30 5km runner to 13:40 when I was there.”
At the start of 2023 the boys were back in Britain and Charlie had a breakthrough race when earning 3000m bronze behind winner James West and Osian Perrin in the UK Indoor Championships. They spent the summer with Charlie generally in A races and George in B races at the same events. But, as Cardiff proved, they now look evenly matched. “It’s been good training together since coming back from America,” says Charlie.
Outside athletics, Charlie works three days a week as a national diabetes prevention practitioner while George is on the job hunt. “I’m an environmental scientist by degree,” George says. “Charlie is helping cover my bills at the moment, so I need a job asap!”
READ MORE: Cardiff Cross Challenge coverage
Their big goal now is the British trials in Liverpool on November 25 for the European Cross Country Championships in Brussels in December. “We’ve never made a GB team before,” says Charlie. “It’s very unlikely we’ll make that cross team but we’re going to try.”
If they don’t earn a ticket to Brussels, they will race in the Telford 10km on December 10 instead. The biggest goal of all, though, is to make an impact on the track.
“I’m saving money to get to BU (Boston Uni) in February to run a fast 5000m there,” says Charlie. “I’d like to break 13:20 and it’s a long way off time-wise but the Olympic qualifying is 13:05 and I’d like to chip away at my time and get as close to that as possible.”
Of course the Wheelers aren’t the first twins to make an impact in athletics. In Britain alone there have been Susan and Angela Tooby, Andrew and Allen Graffin and more recently Lina and Laviai Nielsen.
For spectators who see the Wheelers in action in coming weeks and months and wonder how to tell them apart, the boys admit: “Even our parents struggle,” although they add that they are twins but not identical twins.
For starters, Charlie is a tiny bit taller and planning to cut his hair in the new year. George has a small mole on his right cheek. George also seems to run a little more upright with Charlie leaning forward slightly.
“Right now is the most similar we’ve looked in a long time to be fair,” they say.
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