Fuelled by ice-cream, Estonia's triplets seek Olympic glory

Tartu (Estonia) (AFP) - Petite, platinum blonde, blue-eyed and identical, Leila, Liina and Lily Luik with their passion for marathons, hip-hop, art and ice cream will make history at the Rio Olympics.

The Olympics has never seen anything like the 30-year-olds from Estonia, neither at a single nor separate Games, according to Bill Mallon, a South Carolina-based Olympic historian.

"The Luiks competing as triplets will be an Olympic first, assuming they all compete," he said.

None of the triplets have run times that threaten the medal contenders but they are training hard for the 42 kilometre (26 mile) marathon and not the Zika virus nor any other obstacle is going to stop them.

Born on October 14, 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 told AFP, adding that summers spent on their grandmother's farm taught them hard work from an early age.

- hairdo clues -

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

In the runup to the Olympics, the sisters have been impossible to miss training in matching flourescent yellow running gear on trails around the Emajogi river -- Estonian for "Mother" -- in their native Tartu, an old university town just 40 kilometres (25 miles) 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 2 hours 37 minutes, 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."

"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 and running styles give clues as to who's who.

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.

Coach Harry Lemberg insists that hairdos aside, each of the sisters runs differently.

"It would be a good idea if they could run together most of the distance, but unfortunately they are not always on the same level and cannot run at the same pace," he told AFP.

- Dancing Swans -

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 despite their gruelling training schedule.

"Painting gives a chance to think about other topics and to get a mental break from running," said Leila.

Her Facebook profile picture features her painting of a swan, revealing the meaning of their family name Luik in Estonian.

The diminutive and lean triplets who stand at around 1.65 metres (5.4 feet) also make no secret of their love of food.

"Our common weakness is ice-cream. We could eat kilos! Especially on warm summer days ice-cream is our favourite. Every Sunday morning we make pancakes and eat ice-cream," Liina told AFP.

The triplets are already hatching a plan to make their "Trio to Rio" Olympic success work for them back in Estonia after the games.

"We dream of opening a small cosmetics business one day or maybe a cosy cafe," says Lily, a keen baker and desert maker.

"We'll see after Rio when it's more quiet. 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."