In Ancient Greece Olympic games was a competition between various Greek cities, the modern Olympics is the competition between countries, people’s and ideologies across the world. Every country has a chance to win a Gold, Silver and Bronze medal if they send their best sportsmen and sports team. While in big picture fight for medals was always fought mainly by USA, China and Russia, the small countries such as Latvia took pride and celebration from every achievement of their sports team. Latvian representatives have taken part in Olympic games since 1912, under the banner of Russia, Soviet Union and Latvia. This is the story of Latvian participation in this grand sports venue.
In 1912, Summer Olympic games took part in Stockholm, Sweden. The Russian Empire team included Latvian nationals to take part in Greek fight, swimming, cycling, shooting and track and field disciplines. First Latvian to win a medal was Haralds Blauss who won a bronze medal in clay pigeon shooting. Clay pigeon shooting was shooting at clay disks thrown in the air by a special device at various directions. The marathoner Elmars Reimanis won a strange award – a cup for most slowest performance, presenting his courage and persistence. In the temperature of +45 Celsius he kept his strength, run slowly but contrary to others he made to finish so late that all the spectators and referees were no longer there.
World war I canceled any games until 192o. in Antwerp, but since the war in Latvia has just ended it did not took part in the games. So the Latvia’s debut in Olympic games was four years later in Paris. Latvia sent a 41 sportsmen. Best achievement was made by weightlifter Kārlis Leilands. Latvian football team also took part and lost to France 0:7. Overall Latvia took part in six sports events out of 19 in Paris.
On 1928, at Amsterdam Latvia send 14 sportsman, including the first female participants. One of them Elfrīda Karlsone was considered the as one of the best disk throwers as her result 35. 27 meters was third best at world level. However no medals were won, the weightlifter Kārlis Leilands was only 2,5 kilograms away from the bronze medal and that was the best Latvian achievement in the games.
The Olympic games in Los Angeles at 1932, was too costly and far away for crisis driven Latvia so only 2 best sportsman arrived there. One of them Jānis Daliņš won first ever medal in Latvian independent history at Racewalking. He finished second crossing 50 km at 4.57:20. Americans were confused by the names of the Latvian delegation as all three representatives of delegation had name Jānis and surname begun with “D”. Journalists asked is all men in Latvia named Jānis or the Jānis is some kind of title. Overall Jānis Daliņš returned as the national hero at home bringing the first medal for his country.
On 1936, the Olympics were held in Berlin. Latvia sent 24 representatives. Edvīns Beitags won silver medal in Greek-Roman fight discipline. Bronze medal was won by Adalberts Bubenko in Racewalk on 50 km. Nobody knew back then that Latvian sportsmen will have to wait 56 years to again participate under the Latvian flag.
After the end of World War II Latvia was occupied and annexed by Soviet Union. However the Latvian sportsman were included in the Soviet team in every Olympics since Helsinki 1952. 3 Latvians were at Helsinki, Maigonis Valdmanis took part in Soviet Basketball team that achieved second place, but he did not received the medal. Oto Grigalka finished fourth in shot-put.
The Melbourne 1956, was time of victory as all 5 Latvians came back with a medal. Inese Jaunzeme became the Olympic champion at javelin-throwing starting the Latvian prominence in this discipline. Basketball player Jānis Krūmiņš won silver, along with team member Valdis Muižnieks and Maigonis Valdmanis.
At Rome 1960, 6 Latvians came with the Soviet team. Again the Soviet basketball team achieved second place giving 4 silver medals to same players that won them in Melbourne. But the gold medal was one by javelin thrower Elvīra Ozoliņa (Lūse). Bruno Habārovs won bronze in fencing.
At Olympic games at Tokyo 1964, 10 out of 15 Latvians won medals. Javelin thrower Jānis Lūsis begun his glorious path by winning bronze medal. Two members of Soviet volleyball team won gold medals.
On 1968, Mexico 3 golden medals were brought home to Latvia. Most famous of it was won by Jānis Lūsis how threw the javelin over 90 meters. Other two medals were gained by male and female volleyball players.
At Munich 1972, Jānis Lūsis came second becoming the only Latvian who has the full Olympic medal set – Gold, Silver and Bronze. Juris Silovs won silver medal in running.
1976. games to Montreal. Soviet female basketball team won the gold medals with their leaders Uļjana Semjonova and Tamāra Dauniene. Aivars Lazdenieks won silver in rowing, Juris Silovs bronze in running.
The Olympic games in Moscow for Latvians were technically the home games. Latvian factories made equipment for games and 13 Latvians came to Moscow. Only two of them did not win any medal, making Moscow the most successful games for Latvians ever. However since the US and many other Western block countries were boycotting the games such result was no wonder. 4 gold medals, 7 silver and 2 bronze medals were brought home to Riga.
The Olympic games in Los Angeles were boycotted by the Soviet Union. Latvians missed the chance to take part in Olympics. The last games under the red banner was in Seoul 1988. 4 gold medals were won by rower Ivans Klementjevs, shooter Afanasijs Kuzmins and in gymnastics by 15-year-old Natālija Laščonova. Igors Miglenieks became the Olympic champion in basketball.
Latvia returned as sovereign country at Barcelona 1992. 34 sportsman in 14 sports fields came to Spain. Ivans Klementjevs won silver medal in rowing, Afanasijs Kuzmins silver in shooting and Dainis Ozols the bronze in cycling.
The Olympic Games at Atlanta was the least successful games for Latvia so far. Out of 47 representatives only Ivans Klemetjevs won silver medal.
The games in Sidney 2000, was more successful as the gymnast Igors Vihrovs won the Gold medal – the first Gold medal in the history of the independent Latvia. Aigars Fadejevs finished second Racewalk. And Vsevolods Zeļonijs won bronze in judo.
The best Olympic games for Latvia was in Athens 2004. 4 sportsmen out of 34 won silver medals. The flag barer Vadims Vasiļevskis won silver in javelin throwing, Jeļena Rubļevska in pentathlon, Jevgeņijs Saproņenko in gymnastics and Viktors Ščerbatihs in weightlifting.
Just like in Sydney Latvia won all three medal set in Beijing 2008. Javelin Thrower Ainārs Kovals won silver, Viktors Ščerbatihs came third. But the gold medal was achieved in the newly introduced BMX race. The winner Māris Štrombergs is a top BMX racer and world champion and has a good chances in London.
In London Olympic games on 9th August Latvian Beach volleyball team won the Bronze medal defeating the Netherlands duo. Previously they defeated the US leading beach volleyball duo in semi final. Mārtņš Pļaviņš and Jānis Smēdiņš are first Latvian medalists in London games and first to win medal in team sports.On 10th August at BMX Cycling Māris Štrombergs defends his Olympic champion title and wins Gold medal.Latvia brought home 2 medals Gold and Bronze and t00k 49 place at the countries medal table.
On 2016 summer Olympic games took place in Rio de Janeiro Brazil. For the first time since 1928 Latvian National Olympic team returned with no medals. Rebeka Koha in women’s low weight weightlifting gained 4th place, while Laura Ikauniece-Admintiņa gained 4th place in women’s heptathlon.