Feb. 8—Jeff Thompson remembers being surprised that one child turned out to be two, but maybe he shouldn't have.
His wife was a twin, and his mom as a twin, and so it seemed like the odds were in their favor.
"Their heart rates were kind of in sync," he recalled of Gunnar and Anders Thompson. "It was kind of towards the end, with an ultrasound, that we found out and it was kind of a shock."
For Shannon Robinson, it was time to triple-check.
"I actually told them to make sure there were only two heart beats," she said. "I remembered my mom was pregnant with triplets, and then she miscarried and had my sister and I.
"When I found out I was having twins, Jeff was at wrestling practice, if I remember correctly."
At any rate, Gunnar hit the mat first in 2005, and two minutes later Anders arrived on the scene. Named after their paternal great-grandfather and his brother — yes, they were twins — the duo has won a lot of wrestling matches since. Now they're close to the end of their high school careers, all of it under their legendary father.
Together, they might just get the Flathead Brave Brawlers back to the top of the podium this weekend.
With the state wrestling meet looming in Billings, Anders is unbeaten and a decided overdog at 205 pounds while Gunnar's three losses to State AA competition at 182 came by one point (Billings West's Anthony Garcia), and two points and one point (Helena Capital's Cole Graham).
The duo is tight, as most twins are, and has been from the first time Anders was nimble enough to climb into Gunnar's crib.
They've been separated by a weight class almost their entire lives — Anders was always a few pounds heavier — and also by a certain level of success. Jeff Thompson notes that Gunnar is more fun-loving, but also the early riser.
"Gunnar gets up and eats breakfast, then wakes up Anders," he said. "Gunnar is very laid back and just loves life. Anders is more structured.
"Gunnar has this laugh that is contagious and gets Anders to lighten up a little bit — gets him to smile and laugh more."
The older brother remembers it was freshman year that Anders took it up a notch on the mat.
"I think that kind of pushed me to get more involved with the sport, and work harder in the room," Gunnar Thompson said. "I definitely used it to push me, instead of being upset about it or jealous."
While Anders Thompson has had Division I schools lining up to recruit him, Gunnar has gotten feelers from NAIA programs Dickinson State in North Dakota and Benedictine in Kansas.
But it was Gunnar that took the bold move of joining the Army National Guard: He spent most of last summer at boot camp in Fort Benning, Georgia, with an eye toward an ROTC scholarship and a wrestling collegiately.
"Eleven weeks," he said of camp. "Mentally, it was pretty tough. Physically, I'd say wrestling helped a lot.
"It was my first time being an adult, I guess you could say, and being away from family. I didn't have a tough time making friends, though. That was nice."
It was a transformative summer for Gunnar and Anders both. Anders, coming off a second straight runner-up finish at the State AA meet last February — he lost to Skyview's Paolo Salminen both times — rededicated himself to the sport.
"Myself and (heavyweight) Sawyer Troupe, all summer we got together with Coach (A.J.) Burnham and got a nutrition plan, a lifting plan and a speed schedule," Anders said. "From the end of last year to the beginning of this season I went from 168 to 200. I grew in height a little bit, but it's mostly muscle.
"Same with Sawyer — he went from 195 to 230."
The results on the mat have been startling. Thompson is 42-0 this season with 37 pins. Troupe — who now has South Dakota State and Wisconsin interested — is 38-0 with 36 pins.
Thompson drew recruiters after a Top 12 finish at the Junior Nationals in Fargo in June; he committed to the Wyoming Cowboys shortly after. Then he set his sights on the Super 32 Challenge in North Carolina and when he finished fifth at 190 pounds, Oklahoma was on the trail.
He decommitted from Wyoming and committed to the Sooners.
"He figured it out," said Jeff Thompson, now in his 16th season as Flathead's wrestling coach. "You work years at this sport, and it just clicks. He's always been good, and it's a huge improvement to go from good to being a great wrestler.
"Anders is just such an incredible competition of speed and strength. He has great scrambling ability. He's an incredible chess player on the mat."
Last high school season was one of those rare ones when Anders and Gunnar were at the same weight: 170. It was tough because in duals and certain tournaments — the Rocky Mountain Classic, for example — only one of them would get on the varsity mat.
When both made it to the semifinals at state on the same side of the bracket, wrestling it out was not an option.
"We aren't really interested in competing against each other," Anders said. "We practice in the room and it doesn't go beyond that."
Gunnar Thompson dropped into the wrestlebacks and finished fourth, and it is times like these that his particular gifts stand out.
"Gunnar is one of the more mentally strong kids I've ever coached," said his dad, who then brought up a memory.
"When the twins were in sixth grade, we were going to go hike the Bob (Marshall Wilderness) and go to the Chinese Wall," he said. "It's a 50-mile hike. Gunnar was just a mule and would not stop, never got tired, just kept going. He had this determination that you don't see every day."
The two have what their dad calls a complementary relationship. Their parents divorced when they were 2, have both remarried, and for 16 years Anders and Gunnar — kids No. 3 and 4 in the pairing, after girls Sheyann and Skyleigh — have pretty much done the one-week-here, next-week-there thing.
"We put the kids first and it's been awesome," Jeff Thompson said, and Shannon Robinson agrees, just as both agree that wrestling has been a crucial part of it.
"Being the mom of Gunnar and Anders has just been an awesome experience," Robinson said. "It's been a fun journey their whole lives. They have their moments but they've always been good friends.
"And I really do feel like the sport of wrestling has had something to do with that. They'll always have that even if they're not doing it in the same place anymore."
Billings West knocked Flathead from the pedestal at last year's State AA meet, after the Brave Brawlers had won the previous two titles — Nos. 7 and 8 in Thompson's tenure as coach.
Billings West surpassed Great Falls and Billings Senior at last week's divisionals, so the competition Friday and Saturday at First Interstate Arena will be tough.
Bring it on, say the Thompson twins.
"I always have very high hopes for the team," said Gunnar. "There's no doubt in my mind we will win State. It definitely will be close, and that's when it's exciting."
"It seems like West will be the favorite, but in my opinion I think we have just as good a team," Anders added. "Last year I felt we had the best team in the state and I think most people agreed. But that's why you wrestle.
"It just depends on how people compete."
They have 63 combined wins this season, with Gunnar's numbers hurt in part by a level one tear in his MCL. Lugging around a knee brace has been an added test, but 21-3 is pretty stout. And Anders Thompson is in his corner.
"Gunnar's definitely my best friend," he said. "We're pretty much always on the same wavelength. We can get after it in a wrestling room, but once we leave, it ends there.
"It's definitely going to be interesting following high school, living without him."
Before that, there are a few more wrestlers to battle. As Anders noted: "Gunnar's state tournament should be super exciting this year."
Editor's Note: This article was corrected to show Billings West was last year's State AA champion.