July 31, 2012
Latvia’s beach volleyballers are off to a great start at London in the preliminary round of 24 teams playing in 6 groups. Both pairs won their first two games and are in a good position to advance to the next round.
Ruslans Sorokins (b. 1982) and Aleksandrs Samoilovs (b. 1985) are ranked 13th and defeated 7th-seeded Poland in three sets after losing the first. They had a much easier time with South Africa winning in two. They now face the 4th ranked duo from the USA on August 1. That should be a treat for Latvian fans in Canada and the United States because the game will be televised. It starts at 4:30pm local time or 11:30am Eastern.
Meanwhile 14th ranked Martins Plavins (b. 1985) and Janis Smedins (b. 1987) also came through big disposing of an 8th-ranked German pair in three sets and Venezuela in two. They face the 5th-seeded Dutch a day later on August 2.
The preliminary round will finish on August 2. The top two teams in each of the six groups advance. They are joined by the top two third place teams. The remaining four third place teams then compete for the final two places. From that point on it’s winner takes all as the sixteen qualifiers drop to eight, then to four and then to the two finalists.
Samoilovs and Plavins played together going into the 2008 Beijing Olympics where they beat the heavily favoured Americans in the preliminary round and then made it to the round of 16 before losing. Plavins and Smedins won bronze in the 2010 European championships.
As for other action, Latvian fans have to bide their time as the bulk of their athletes have yet to compete. Not so in neighbouring Lithuania which is basking in glory at the surprise 100m breaststroke gold win by 15 year old teenager Ruta Meilulyte. Now based in Britain, she stunned the sporting world and catapulted to instant fame. Basketball-crazy Lithuanians momentarily forgot about their team which stumbled in a opening loss to Argentina but then defeated Nigeria and could still go far. Like Latvia, Estonia also hopes to pull in a few medals but there’s nothing to report yet.
Latvia does not have a tradition of excellence in any summer discipline so predicting medals is difficult. One group to watch is the team of four Latvian BMXers. Led by Beijing gold medalist Maris Strombergs who is still considered an elite cyclist, they will compete from August 8-10.
The Games are over for a number of Latvia’s athletes. Road cyclist Aleksejs Saramotins finished 56th, Dimitrijs Trefilovs finished 38th in men’s gymnastics, Konstantins Ovchinnikovs lost to a Brazilian in judo, Matiss Burgis made it to the second round of table tennis before bowing out and Uldis Kalnins, who, despite coming in 2nd in his 100m freestyle swimming heat, placed 30th overall and did not advance.
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.