When the Luik sisters take their first step past the starting line at the women's Olympic marathon next month in Rio de Janeiro, they will have already made history.
Calling themselves the "Trio to Rio," Estonian sisters Leila, Liina and Lily Luik, 30, are believed to be the first set of triplets to ever compete in the Olympics.
"We think that when we are really there and together on the start line then we will realize what we have achieved,'' Leila told TODAY via email. "Of course, we are very happy and satisfied that we have almost achieved what we have dreamed since we started running."
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There have been 200 sets of twins who have competed in the Olympics, including 188 of whom competed at the same games, but there is no record of triplets ever participating in either the winter or summer events, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon, who maintains a database of 12,000 Olympic athletes.
Making it even more improbable, the Luik sisters did not even take up running competitively until six years ago, when they were 24.
A friend suggested it to the trio, who had danced professionally after high school,
"Since childhood we have all done the same things and we have the same tastes and hobbies,'' Liina told TODAY. "It's clear that when one of us started running, then all of us started to love this."
The sisters became Estonia's three qualifiers for the marathon by running under the mandated Olympic cut-off time of 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Leila is the fastest with a personal best of 2:37:11, followed by Liina at 2:39:42 and Lily at 2:40:30. Lily was the last to qualify after registering her time at the Hamburg Marathon in Germany in April.
While they will make history by competing on Aug. 14, the sisters are not considered medal contenders.
Leila's personal best is far behind the Olympic marathon record of 2:23:07, set by Ethiopia's Tiki Gelana at the 2012 Games in London.
Meanwhile, Estonia, an Eastern European nation of 1.3 million people, has had scant success among female marathoners on the international stage.
The Estonian women's record was set in 1997 by Jane Salumae, who ran 2:27:04 at a marathon in Turin, Italy. Her best Olympic finish was 44th place in appearances at the 1996 and 2004 Games.
No Estonian woman has won a medal in the marathon since Estonia began competing on its own in 1992 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
As far as whether the sisters will run together or separately during the marathon in Rio, that depends more on how the race unfolds.
They do not train together every day, instead alternating between running alone and running with each other.
"If we have the same level, then we will finish together,'' Lily told TODAY. "But we'll see what happens in reality. Our dream is to run our best, enjoy the race and when it's possible to run together, that would also be great."
The Luik sisters also are looking to use the experience in Rio to potentially make a run at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
There's also hope their burgeoning popularity could spur more interest in distance running in their home country.
"We've worked so hard, and now we can say that 'Trio to Rio' is coming true,'' Leila said. "It's much more fun to complete this dream with such supportive and positive friends as your own identical sisters."
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