July 29, 2012
Since regaining independence, Latvian athletes have brought home medals from every Summer Olympics. In 1992 at Barcelona it was a silver in canoeing by Ivans Klementjevs, a silver in pistol shooting by Afanisijs Kuzmins and a bronze by Dainis Ozols in the individual men’s cycling road race.
Four years later Klementjevs repeated with a silver at Atlanta. Igors Vihrovs won Latvia’s first ever gold at Sydney in 2000 in gymnastics while teammates Aigars Fadejevs added a silver in the men’s 50km walk and Vesvolods Zelonijs picked up a bronze in judo.
Latvia’s biggest haul came at Athens in 2004 with four silvers. Jevgenijs Sapronenko came second in the pole vault, Vadims Vasilevskis followed in the javelin, Jelena Rublevska in the women’s pentathlon, a single day event consisting of sharp-shooting, fencing, swimming, equestrianism and cross-country running, and Viktors Scerbatihs in weigthlifting. Maris Strombergs picked up a BMX gold in 2008 at Beijing, Ainars Kovals scored a silver in the javelin while Scerbatihs added a bronze in the men’s super heavyweight weightlifting class.
Coming into London, Latvia has a record of 3 gold, 11 silver and 4 bronze medals. The total includes a silver in Los Angeles in 1932 as well as a silver and a bronze in Berlin in 1936. Latvian athletes first participated in the 1912 Games under the Tsarist flag and were members of Soviet teams during occupation. Janis Konrads won a swimming gold for Australia in 1960, his sister Ilze won a silver in the same Games while Aldis Berzins was on the 1984 USA gold medal volleyball team.
Latvia has 48 athletes in London and they will be competing in wrestling, judo, table tennis, the pentathlon, swimming, beach volleyball, canoeing, weightlifting, athletics, gymnastics, BMX cycling and road cycling.
While Latvia has few contenders, previous games show that medals can come from unexpected quarters. However Maris Strombergs, the BMX winner at Beijing is considered a medal contender. Two pairs are entered in the men’s beach volleyball. They are ranked 13th and 14th coming into the Games and could surprise.
Of note is sharpshooter Kuzmins who is at the age of 65 is in his 9th Summer Olympics. Kuzmins made his debut under the Soviet flag at the 1976 Games in Montreal. He only missed the 1984 games in Los Angeles due to a tit-for-tat Soviet bloc boycott following the West’s boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow in retaliation for the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He is not the oldest participant in London. The oldest is a Japanese equestrianist at 71.
As a footnote, Sanita Puspurs, a recent immigrant from Latvia, will be competing for Ireland in single women’s rowing.
While bigger countries fret over their medal totals, for Latvia it will be pulling in a few medals and not being skunked. But then again, 80 of the 205 nations participating at London have never won any Olympic medal at either the Winter or Summer Games.
Viesturs Zariņš lives in Canada and is a periodic contributor to Latvians Online. He was a member of the World Federation of Free Latvians executive board from 1991 through 1999 and a board member of the Latvian National Federation in Canada for 10 years, including three years as its president.