Estonia Olympic marathon triplets: ‘It would be great to finish together’

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TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Fans at the Rio Olympics will be seeing not just double, but triple in the women’s marathon when identical triplets race together for the first time.

Calling themselves the “Trio to Rio” and sporting identical uniforms and blonde ponytails, Estonians Leila, Lily and Liina Luik are used to spectators and officials mixing them up when they’re competing.

“They don’t know who is who,” Lily said. “Commentators see one of us is coming, and the other is a little bit later, and then comes the third one. It’s like: ‘So fast, you are already here.'”

The triplets joked among themselves and finished sentences during an interview with The Associated Press at a track in Estonia’s capital. Asked how they decided to turn pro and try for the Olympics, Liina and Lily answered in unison “together.”

Twins are not uncommon in the history of the Olympics, which has many tales of sporting families. But triplets are a first, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon, who keeps a database of athletes.

The 30-year-old sisters are from the medieval city of Tartu, and they only turned pro at the relatively late age of 24. They don’t come from an athletic family.

Keen to play outside from a young age, they took up distance running because “we feel the nature vibe,” Liina said.

Lily said jokingly that the marathon is an “easier” way to travel than hiking.

Whether training or racing, the triplets have a relentless competitive drive and family solidarity. They want to break each other’s personal best (currently held by Leila) but also race tactically, taking turns at the tiring task of leading the pack and facing greater wind resistance.

“When its hard conditions and someone is little bit behind or weaker, we all push each other — ‘Go, go on, come on, don’t stop,'” said Leila, the oldest. “Together we are like a dream team.”

“If one of us has a bad competition or something, everyone feels that,” Lily said. “Injuries (are) also very bad for us because if one of us couldn’t compete somewhere it’s … not a complete team.”

The sisters are favored to take Estonia’s three qualifying spots for the marathon, but they’re not likely to win a medal since Leila’s best time of 2 hours 37 minutes 11 seconds is almost 15 minutes slower than the Olympic record. There’s a strong tradition of Nordic distance running, especially in Estonia’s neighbor Finland, but African countries are the undisputed leaders of the modern marathon.

Still, spirits are high for the “Trio to Rio.”

“The nervousness hasn’t come to us,” Lily said. “Definitely, it would be great to finish all together. It would be difficult, but we try it.”

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World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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