Martha Smilgis
November 21, 1977 12:00 PM

The double take—that look, then startled look again—was perfected in Hollywood. Now, only a few miles away, the University of Southern California has introduced the triple take.

Look: Lisa Van Benthum. Look again: Lynne Van Benthum. Look a third time: Lorelei Van Benthum. And each one has a spear. They are a toothsome triplet of javelin throwers who hope to carry the USC banner into the 1980 Olympics.

Although called identical, the 18-year-old sisters aren’t. “We only have the same nose—father’s,” says Lisa, the oldest by 35 minutes. At birth she weighed 4 lbs. 3 oz. (and is now 5’6½” and 128 lbs.). Next came 3-lb. 5-oz. Lorelei (now 5’5″ and 118 lbs.), and two minutes later 2-lb. 15-oz. Lynne (now 5’3½” and 108 lbs). The girls were six weeks premature but had few “preemie” difficulties.

Interestingly, Lisa competes with her right hand, Lynne with her left—and “middle” child Lorelei is ambidextrous. Lisa throws the farthest, 160 feet, whereas Lynne and Lorelei’s best toss is about 140 feet. In two years Lisa expects to reach 180 feet, only 10 feet short of Olympic qualification. (The women’s world record, set by ex-UCLA co-ed Kathy Schmidt, is 227 feet.) Because technique is as important as size and strength, Lorelei and Lynne are able to challenge Lisa—and they do. “I like to beat her,” admits Lorelei, then adds kindly, “but I want her to beat everybody else.” (All three are on full USC athletic scholarships.)

The Van Benthum sisters were born in oceanfront La Jolla, where Dad is a lawyer who plays basketball every day at the Y and Mom works as a secretary. They have an older sister, 22, and—incredibly—twin brothers, 20. As early as 8, Lisa, Lorelei and Lynne were good at sports, especially long-distance baseball throwing. A friend introduced them to the javelin, and when they were 11 Dad bought home a $40 aluminum spear and a stack of books about coaching the sport. When she was 11 Lorelei broke a local AAU record with a 72-foot throw.

Freshmen this fall, the Van Benthums live in a co-ed campus dorm, where, according to Lynne, the “creeps downstairs chant ‘We want a triplet’ whenever we walk by.” Lisa was assigned to be Lorelei’s roommate (so Lorelei would be sure to study). Lynne lives with another girl. All three share classes, books and, sometimes, boyfriends. “If they don’t get one of us, they ask another out,” quips Lorelei, who has a reputation for breaking hearts—including her sisters’. “She picks ’em up, scopes ’em out and then drops ’em,” says Lisa. In high school Lorelei and Lynne were stuck on the same boy. “We can laugh about it now,” insists Lynne. “I could laugh about it then,” winks Lorelei. Their hobbies vary: Lorelei sews, Lynne cooks and, moans Lisa, “I eat.”

Despite their popularity—they were homecoming princesses at La Jolla High—the sisters decided not to join a sorority. Instead they spend 26 hours a week jogging, throwing, lifting weights and playing volleyball. (They avoid tennis because it requires an arm motion different from the javelin.) What’s ahead? The Van Benthums grin: becoming the first triple threat in Olympic history.

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