On January 25 1924 the first ever Winter Olympic games begun in Chamonix, France. Latvia also sent its national Olympic team. Despite the fact that winter is longer than summer in Latvia, our sportsman have less Olympic medals than in Summer games. However, Latvian sportsman have gained success in the winter games under Latvian and the Soviet many times and we hope to win at least one medal in 2014 Sochi. This is short story of Latvian participation in the Winter Olympics.
On 1924 Latvia in Chamonix France sent its first two representatives. Only two sportsman were sent as it was the first time for Latvia to participate in Olympics as sovereign state. 41 people took place in Paris Summer Olympics. Alberts Rumba a speed skater gained 7th place, while skier Roberts Plūme carried the flag of Latvia. On 1928 in St Moritz Switzerland only Alberts Rumba took part he gained 14th place in 1500 meter distance. On 1932 Latvia skipped the Olympic games in Lake Placid because of economic crisis that prevented to send delegation to United States. However, in the same year in Los Angeles during the Summer Olympics Latvia managed to sent two sportsman of one managed to gain first Olympic medal. The enthusiasm for Olympics grew stronger. On 1936 The Olympics took place in Nazi Germany, Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the Bavarian Alps. Latvia sent 26 sportsman of which most were the Latvian hockey team. With Latvian hockey still in grassroots our team took parted 13-15th place. The Latvian skiing team took 13th place. That was the last of the Olympics before World War II.
After WW2 Latvia was under the grip of the Soviet Union. Before World War II Soviet Union refrained from taking part in the Olympics seeing them as capitalist celebration. However, after World War 2 Soviet Union had become the new superpower and wanted to prove their superiority in sports field. As Latvian Socialist Republic was unable to participate as a separate team (thankfully, because that would justify its illegal annexation by the USSR) Latvian sportsman took part in the USSR Olympic team. First Latvians were sent to Grenoble, France on 1968. The only Latvian national Lāsma Kauniste who was the world’s champion in speed skating gained 5th place in 15oo meters. An exile in US Visvaldis Nagobads was the doctor for US Olympic hockey team.
On 1972 Olympics took place in Sapporo, Japan. Soviet team did not include any Latvian. Meanwhile Canada sent 18th year old speed skater Sivija Burka. She also took place in 1976 and 1980 Olympics. Her highest achievement was 4th place in 1976 in 1000 meter distance. Also known as a track cyclist she is included in the Mantioba Hall of Fame. On 1976 in Insbruck Austria Soviet delegation sent five Latvians all in the luge field. Soviet Union had begun to discover the luge and bobsleigh discipline and Latvians were one of the first to score first success. Vera Zozuļa, Rolands Upatnieks, Valdis Ķuzis, Dainis Bremze and Aigars Kriķis where the founders of the USSR luge and bobsleigh industry.
In 1980 the Olympics took place in Lake Placid US. While US ignored the Summer games in Moscow, USSR sent its team to US Winter Games. Five Latvians were sent along and it turned into great success for them. Vera Zozuļa won golden medal in luge, becoming first sportswoman from Latvia to gain Winter Olympic Medal. Latvian hockey star Helmuts Balderis gained silver medal along with his USSR hockey team. Since Latvians played hockey on the international level before Soviets ever did, many Latvians helped Soviets to become leaders in ice hockey. Ingrīda Amantova gained 3th place in luge. On 1984 the Olympics took place in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. 11 Latvians were sent. Only one, but very important Bronze medal was gained by bobsleigh duo Zintis Ekmanis and Vladimir Alexandrov from Russia. Latvians were one of the first to introduce bobsleigh to USSR. On 1986 in Sigulda a luge and bobsleigh track was finished pawing way for own Latvian luge, bobsleigh and later skeleton industry. At 1988 Kalgari Olympics in Canada 11 Latvians of which 1o were from Soviet Bobsleigh team. Jānis Ķipurs and Vladimir Kozlov won gold medal in bobsleigh duo. Bronze was gained by bobsleigh four including Guntis Osis and Juris Tone. A rather ironic was the golden medal for hockey goalie Vitālijs Samoilovs who was in the reserve in every game, but since the Soviet team won he got the medal as well.
The 1988 Olympics were the last ones for the Soviet Union. On 1992 Albertville, France there was no more Soviet Union, but again there was Latvia as sovereign state. 23 sportsman were sent. Jānis Ķipurs carried the flag. No medal was won, highest marks were gained by luges Aivars Polis, Roberts Suharevs. 11th place was scored by a female luge Anna Orlova. On 1994 Lillehammer, Norway Latvia sent 27 sportsman in 6 disciplines. Latvian figure skater duo Eļena Berezhnaya and Oļeg Šlahovs gained 8th place. A seemingly promising pair was disrupted after Berežnaja was badly injured during training. She was paralyzed and speech impaired, however she managed to recover and emigrated to Russia. With new partner under the Russian flag she scored silver in 1998 and on 2002 gained the Gold Medal. Latvian poor figure skating industry could only wonder what would happen if that accident on 1996 would not take place and Elena would stay in Latvia. Zintis Ekmanis carried the flag in the ceremony, but it was evident that new generation is needed in luge and bobsleigh.
On 1998 Nagano, Japan Latvia sent 29 sportsman. in 6th fields. Latvian bobsleigh duo lead by Sandis Prūsis gained high marks. Latvian biathlonists Ilmārs Bricis and Jēkabs Nākums gained 5th place in some disciplines. However, that was not enough to gain medals. On 2002 Salt Lake City Latvia sent 47 sportsman in 8 disciplines. The size doubled because the Latvian Hockey Team finally managed to qualify for the Olympic tournament. The first two attempts in 1994 and 1998 ended in failure. Latvia defeated Austria and Ukraine, had 6:6 tie with Slovakia, but failed to defeat Germany and ended at 9th place. Sandis Prūsis had good chances for medals, however he was accused of using doping, he managed to prove that he did not used it intentionally and gained entry in to Olympics. However, since his starting position was shorthanded because of scandal he gained 7th place. Latvia also gained great attention from US television, because Latvian exiles and the president of Latvia Vaira Vīķe Freiberga demanded not to show commercials during the Latvian entry into Olympic ceremony. Some televisions made special reports about Latvia and showed the team entry.
On 2006 in Torino, Latvia sent 58 sportsman in 8 sports fields. Again hockey team made entry, but showed miserable results by ending up at last place. But, it was luge Mārtiņš Rubenis who won the first ever medal for Latvian state. It was bronze in luge a historic moment for Latvian winter sports. On 2010 in Vancouver Latvia sent 58 sportsman. The main Latvian hope was skeleton world champion Mārtins Dukurs. A likely candidate to gain golden medal, however at last run he was defeated by Canadian John Montgomery. Dukurs Silver was still an achievement, bur then a surprise silver was gained by luge duo brothers Andris and Juris Šics. Their were not on the expectations list, but made the Vancouver as the most successful winter games for Latvia.
On February 7 Olympic Games will take place in Sochi, Russia. 58 sportsman in 9 sports field will contest for medals. Latvian hockey team will play again. Martins Dukurs has kept his leading positions and is likely to win a medal. Also bobsleigh duo by Oskars Melbārdis and Daumants Dešļers and bobsleigh four is faring well. I will not predict any results, but wish the best for our sportsman in these highly controversial winter games.
On February 12 in Double luge brothers Andris and Juris Šici won bronze medals. On 2010 they gained silver.
On February 13 in Luge team competition Elīza Tīruma, Martins Rubenis and brothers Šici wins bronze medals.