Leila, Liina and Lily Luik from Estonia will make history as the first identical triplets to compete against each other at the Olympic games in Rio this summer. All three 30-year-olds will be competing in the women's marathon. (Reuters)

Countries are allowed to send up to three athletes of each gender to race in the Olympic marathon, which works out very nicely for the Luik sisters. The trio of Estonian runners are set to become the first set of triplets to compete in the same event at the Games.

Leila, Liina and Lily Luik, 30, are fulfilling their “Trio to Rio” dream of all qualifying for the 2016 Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in August. The final piece fell into place in April, when Leila completed a marathon in Hamburg in 2 hours 42 minutes 11 seconds (female qualifiers need to finish no slower than 2:45:00).

Remarkably, the sisters only took up running seriously at the age of 24, although they had long been interested in athletics. “We have been active since childhood. We love dancing. We love to be active, and this pushed us to professional sports,” Lily Luik told Reuters.

“We saw … after one year we had good results in Estonia, and we thought we could achieve something good also outside of Estonia,” she added, “and to do some big competitions like European Championships and the Olympic Games.”


Estonia’s Olympic triplets, from left: Leila, Liina and Lily Luik. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

When the Luiks competed in the 2014 European Championships in Zurich, they became the first triplets to do so in that competition. At the time, one of them (the correspondent can be forgiven for apparently not being sure which sister) said, “It is our great dream and we’re working towards [the Olympics]. The Europeans were a medium-term target.”

Given their best times, the Luiks are not expected to medal at the Games. According to Reuters, Leila, the oldest, has the fastest personal best at 2:37.12, set in Shanghai in 2013. Liina’s personal best is 2 minutes 30 seconds slower and Lily, the youngest, is 45 seconds behind that. At the 2012 Olympics, the women’s marathon was won by Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana in 2:23:07, while the silver and bronze medal times were 2:23:12 and 2:23:29, respectively.


The Luiks run during a training session in Tartu, Estonia. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

Still, one can expect the set of triplets to receive their share of attention in Rio. In the meantime, they are about to finalize their preparations for the Games in northern Italy, this after spending the winter together at a high-altitude training camp in Kenya.

To actually take home a medal “would be great,” the sisters told Reuters. “It’s like our dream, and we know that we have to live in reality. It is very hard to compete against the Kenyan runners. We are not at the same kind of level as they are now, but in two or three years we can do that.”

The Luiks are dreaming big, and achieving plenty of what they desire. Once they have had their initial experience at this year’s Olympics, who knows? There will be another Summer Games in 2020, and, as may work out nicely, three potential medals to win.