Triplets and twins leave marathon fans rub­bing their eyes in dis­be­lief

Es­to­nian sis­ters fin­ished down the field but caused quite a stir, writes Jim White

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - RIO 2016 -

On a beau­ti­ful Rio morn­ing, a gentle sea breeze rustling the flags of the com­pet­ing na­tions, Jemima Sum­gong was the first to ar­rive in the Sam­bo­dromo at the head of the field in the women’s marathon. In the sta­dium that hosts the an­nual Rio car­ni­val, where the usual cos­tume in­volves gi­ant feather head­dresses, rhine­stone en­crusted biki­nis and ver­tig­i­nously heeled shoes, the diminu­tive Kenyan be­came her coun­try’s first fe­male Olympic marathon win­ner in a time of 2hr 24min 04sec.

But it was what hap­pened be­hind the fleet-footed East African that re­ally cap­tured the at­ten­tion. This was the race of the mul­ti­ple births, fea­tur­ing not just two pairs of iden­ti­cal twins, but, for the first time in Olympic his­tory, a set of iden­ti­cal triplets. All along a course that wound its way through Rio’s bet­ter heeled sub­urbs, send­ing sump­tu­ous pic­tures of beach­side apart­ment blocks and tree-lined hills across the world, were spec­ta­tors sud­denly alarmed that they must be suf­fer­ing from dou­ble vi­sion. At times, fans would run along­side the com­peti­tors, film­ing on their cam­era phones, per­haps to check when they got home that their eye­sight was still prop­erly func­tion­ing.

The two North Kore­ans, 23-yearold twins Hye-Song and HyeGeong Kim, added to the con­fu­sion by run­ning to­gether ev­ery step of the 26-mile course, ap­par­ently at­tached at the hip. Their stride in tele­pathic syn­chronic­ity, with barely a mil­lime­tre be­tween them, they ar­rived at the line ab­so­lutely to­gether. A photo fin­ish could not sep­a­rate them as they both timed 2-28-36 al­though Hye-Song was given 10th place and Hye-Geong 11th.

Lisa Hah­ner and Anna Hah­ner – 26-year-old twins rep­re­sent­ing Ger­many – also fin­ished hand in hand. There will doubt­less be some de­bate around the break­fast bar of the ath­lete’s vil­lage to­mor­row, as their care­fully co­or­di­nated sib­ling to­geth­er­ness was not ac­knowl­edged by the of­fi­cials: Anna was timed at 2-45-32, com­ing in 81st, a sec­ond quicker than her sis­ter in 82nd.

The three Luik sis­ters run­ning for Es­to­nia showed no such chore­ographed co­op­er­a­tion. The first and only triplets to par­tic­i­pate in the Olympics, the 30-year-old train­ing part­ners from Tallinn were scat­tered across the bot­tom half of the field. The sis­ters knew be­fore they came to Brazil that their chances of join­ing each other on the medal podium were re­mote.

With their quick­est fin­ishes sig­nif­i­cantly slower than run­ners like Sum­gong and sil­ver medal­list Eu­nice Kirwa, they knew they were mak­ing up the num­bers. In an odd bit of syn­chro­ni­sa­tion, the times of their per­sonal bests cor­re­spond to their birth or­der: Leila, marginally the old­est, is the fastest of the triplets with a per­sonal best of 2-37-11; 2-31 faster than Li­ina and 3-19 faster than Lily. That or­der, though, was not re­flected on the streets of Rio.

They started out in uni­son, a streak of to­geth­er­ness in their blue na­tional run­ning kit, all wear­ing the same blonde-bob hair­style. Leila was the most eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able. She had more tape on her than a Christ­mas par­cel, strap­ping cov­er­ing her thighs and knees. But it was Li­ina who was first in trou­ble, drop­ping out of con­tention soon af­ter pass­ing the 10km mark. The other two bat­tled on. They did not look as though they were en­joy­ing them­selves, their faces etched in pain.

Spon­sored by the Es­to­nian Tourist Board, with ev­ery stride they were pro­ject­ing a pos­i­tive im­age of their na­tion’s grit and de­ter­mi­na­tion. If not its ca­pac­ity for vic­tory: Lily fin­ished 97th in 2-48-29, while Leila, the fastest sib­ling, trailed in 114th.

“When Li­ina fell be­hind I was like, ‘Come on, come on’ but, for me, it’s so sad be­cause you have to push to the end,” said Lily. “I thought that maybe she’s com­ing and we could fin­ish to­gether but it was a very tough race for us.”

Leila added: “This is amaz­ing. We started run­ning pro­fes­sion­ally at 24, we want to in­spire all peo­ple who are afraid to start so late.”

The three­some were re­united on the fin­ish line. Professional dancers back home in Es­to­nia – as well as fully trained life­guards – they wrapped them­selves in their na­tional flag and con­ducted an un­re­strained samba for the cam­eras, sway­ing their hips in per­fect har­mony. Their spon­sor will have been thrilled.

See­ing triple: Li­ina, Lily and Leila Luik flew the flag for Es­to­nia yes­ter­day

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