Estonia's marathon trio to make history in Rio

Estonia's female marathon runners for the Olympics (left to right) Lily, Liina and Leila Luik running during a training session in Tartu, Estonia, ahead of the Rio Games next month.
Estonia's female marathon runners for the Olympics (left to right) Lily, Liina and Leila Luik running during a training session in Tartu, Estonia, ahead of the Rio Games next month.PHOTO: REUTERS

TARTU (Estonia) • Petite, platinum blonde, blue-eyed and identical, Leila, Liina and Lily Luik - with their passion for marathons, hip-hop, art and ice cream - will create a new mark at the Rio Olympics.

"The 30-year-olds from Estonia competing as triplets will be an Olympic first," said Bill Mallon, an Olympic historian.

None of the triplets has run times that threaten the medal contenders but they are training hard for the 42km marathon and neither the Zika virus nor any other obstacle is going to stop them.

Born on Oct14, 1985, five years before Estonia broke free from the Soviet Union, the triplets have been always been inseparable and unstoppable.

"We've been active and always moving from early childhood," Lily said , adding that summers spent on their grandmother's farm taught them hard work from an early age.

But she admits that making decisions poses a challenge for the trio, who always take their time to mull things over before agreeing a common course of action.

In the run-up to the Olympics, the sisters have been impossible to miss, training in matching fluorescent yellow running gear on trails around the Emajogi river - Estonian for "Mother" - in their native Tartu, an old university town just 40km from the Russian border.

They qualified for the Rio Olympics despite having taken up marathon running just six years ago.

Leila tops the trio with a personal best of 2hr 37min, well off the 2:23:07 record set by Ethiopian runner Tiki Gelana at the 2012 London Olympics.

The women's all-time world record belongs to Briton Paula Radcliffe, who finished in 2:15:25 in London's 2003 marathon.

Undaunted, Leila said the sisters are simply "aiming for our new personal best times".

She added: "We'll approach it positively, support each other and hope to keep running together from start to finish.

"This is a great motivation for us and really gives us willpower and strength."

Telling them apart is tricky, but their hairdos give clues. The sisters, who admit to being bottle blondes, sport strategic styles to help the uninitiated.

While Liina wears a chin-length bob, Leila's locks just graze her shoulders and Lily's mane is significantly longer.

Before taking up running, the triplets were professional hip-hop dancers.

While they no longer have time to perform, Lily and Leila are also talented artists and still love to paint.

The diminutive and lean triplets, who stand at 1.65m, also make no secret of their love of food.

"Our common weakness is ice cream. We could eat kilos of it," Liina said.

"Especially on warm summer days, ice cream is our favourite. Every Sunday morning we make pancakes and eat ice cream."

The triplets are already planning to capitalise on the mileage they are getting from their "Trio to Rio" story.

"We dream of opening a small cosmetics business or maybe a cosy cafe (in Estonia after the Olympics)," said Lily, a keen baker and dessert maker.

"We have to think how best to use the fact that there's three of us and how this would be a special reason for people to come to our cafe. We're inseparable."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 24, 2016, with the headline 'Estonia's marathon trio to make history in Rio'. Print Edition | Subscribe