The Trio to Rio – The New York Times

Liina spends much of her time with her boyfriend in Tallinn, the Estonian capital. Leila is engaged to be married. Leila and Lily are artists and have begun to sell their work, flowers and landscapes and portraits. And also swans, the English translation of their family name, which appear on coffee mugs and on their windproof running jackets.

“If you are alone, you have to make yourself keep an eye on your body and your rhythm,” said Liina Luik, who has swans tattooed on her forearm. “If you are together, maybe the stronger one does a little weaker than she should in a workout. Or the weaker sister overtrains.”

Lemberg is also sensitive to another aspect of coaching triplets. He speaks to them collectively, and individually, but he has a rule of not speaking privately about one sister’s training or health or personal life to another sister.

“If he speaks about me, it shouldn’t be to the others,” Liina Luik said. “We don’t like that.”

Olympic Race Strategy

In Rio, the sisters are tempted to pace each other, or to draft off each other if the day is windy, to experience the highlight of their careers in unison, identical triplets with identical results. But it is impossible to predict how a marathon will unfold. To achieve their best results they know they may have to run apart, not together.


From left, Leila, Lily and Liina taking a photograph of their shoes to post on their Trio to Rio page on Facebook. The sisters, who are 30, began running seriously only six years ago.

David B. Torch for The New York Times

As of now, Lemberg said, the strategy may be for Liina, who is in the best form, to run ahead while Leila and Lily run behind.

Leila and Lily laughed when told this and said they would yell at Liina, “Look out, the other two are coming!”

Liina Luik said she felt somewhat conflicted about how to run the Olympic marathon.

“As a sportsman in Rio, it is best to run your personal best,” she said. “If you think like a team or like sisters or with your heart, maybe the best way is to finish together. It’s good if we are together. But if I feel my personal best coming, I’ll go.”

Preterm birth and low birth weight are common among triplets. But, according to experts in pediatrics, by 1985, when the Luik sisters were born, Estonian doctors had begun to challenge the Soviet tradition that limited physical contact between mothers and their newborns in the hospital and kept fathers away entirely.

Some Estonian doctors advocated mothers breast-feeding in intensive care units and that mothers and fathers should have close, loving contact with their babies as soon and as often as possible after birth.

The Luik sisters became so active from a young age that their grandmother would tell their mother, “These girls don’t know how to walk; they just run.” Still, Lea Luik put her daughters into music lessons, preferring that they play the piano, the cello and the violin instead of sports. Even now, she said with a laugh, she did not want them to be marathon runners.

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