Every set of twins I’ve met has told me they don’t actually switch places, which goes against everything Disney movies taught me. But Puerto Rican twins Madeline and Margaret de Jesús knew how to make the most of their resemblance.
Back in 1984, Puerto Rico sent about 50 competitors to the Los Angeles Olympics, one of which was Madeline. The athlete qualified for two events: the long jump and the women’s 4×400-meter relay. When she arrived in LA, the 26-year-old ended in 21st place in the qualifying round of the long jump competition. But more disappointingly, she sustained an injury. Likely not wanting to let down her team, she asked her twin to step in for her. It’s kind of like the Parent Trap. But instead of tricking their parents into getting back together, they tried to dupe the Olympic committee into giving them a medal.
According to La Nación, Margaret also ran competitively, but she failed to make the Olympic team. She still headed out to LA to support her sister. But like many siblings who end up accomplices to mischief, Margaret went along with Madeline’s scheme. On August 10, Margaret actually helped Puerto Rico qualify for the final, but a journalist busted them. The journalist covered the twins, and knew they were indistinguishable, save for the beauty mark one had on her cheek. Puerto Rican chief coach Freddie Vargas ended up pulling the team out of the competition, so Evelyn Mathieu, Marie Mathieu, and Angelita Lind’s suffered as a consequence.
This incident landed the de Jesús twins on many lists dedicated to the most epic cases of cheating at the Olympics. But it could have ended Madeline’s career. About two months after the switcheroo, the Puerto Rican Olympic Committee banned the sisters from participating in future events, UPI reports. The team’s coach Francisco Colon Alers received a matching lifetime ban. The committee also suspended the other relay members for a year. In Madeline’s testimony, she said she informed Colon Alers before she and Margaret switched places. In his testimony, he said he didn’t think they’d actually go through with it. The organization only spared the team’s athletic trainer Gabino Irizarry and Vargas.
As it turns out, Madeline’s antics didn’t actually earn her a lifetime suspension, because by 1988, she once again made the team. That time, she only qualified for the long jump.