Latvia’s athletes in the Summer Olympics in Athens brought home four silver medals. The silver medals were earned by gymnast Jevgeņijs Saproņenko, weightlifter Viktors Ščerbatihs, modern pentathalon athlete Jeļena Rubļevska and javelin thrower Vadims Vasiļevskis. Saproņenko won on the vault Aug. 23, Ščerbatihs earned his in the +105-kilogram group on Aug. 25, Rubļevska got hers on Aug. 27 and Vasiļevskis won his on Aug. 28. Each athlete also may expect up to an LVL 50,000 reward from the government upon their return home.
Saproņenko told the Olympic News Service that he was more than happy with his performance, but acknowledged that an error by Romanian gymnast Marian Dragulescu helped him win the silver medal. Dragulescu won the bronze.
“I feel lucky to have won the silver medal as Dragulescu had a bad landing in his second vault,” Saproņenko said. “His first one was amazing, simply unbelievable. At that point I figured I was definitely going to be third. But that would not matter either way, as my goal was to be in the top three!”
Ščerbatihs said he didn’t expect to win a medal, but aimed to finish in the top six.
However, his preparation paid off.
“At first I was eating far too much and I wasn’t eating the proper foods,” he said. “Then I was put on a diet. I ate as much as before and even more, but I was eating the proper food. I’ve trained two or three times every day, except Sunday.”
Rubļevska’s best performance in the pentathalon came in fencing, where she registered 23 victories and eight defeats, earning her first place.
“After fencing, I tried to do my best,” Rubļevska told the Olympic News Service after earning her medal. “I think I performed as well as I could.”
Vasiļevskis not only won the silver, but also recorded a personal best with his first throw, which landed at 84.95 meters. He had earlier set a personal best in the qualifying round.
“It was hard for me to get into the Olympic Games,” Vasiļevskis told the Olympic News Service. “But I have a strong character. In Latvia carrying the flag (in the opening ceremony) meant I was the strongest for the whole team, so I had to prove that I really was.”
Raising the bar
At least four more athletes returned home knowing they have raised the bar a bit. Swimmer Romāns Miloslavskis on Aug. 17 set a new personal best and Latvian record in the 100-meter freestyle event. However, he did not advance to the semifinals. Aigars Fadejevs on Aug. 20 set a season’s best for himself in the 20-kilometer race walk. Ineta Radēviča set a personal best in the triple jump qualifier Aug. 21. Jānis Karlivāns in the decathalon Aug. 23 and 24 added two personal bests—in the 110-meter hurdles and the 1,500-meter race.
Too drunk to fly
Several media outlets reported Aug. 13 that Latvian track-and-field coach Gints Bitītis had his accreditation revoked by the Latvian Olympic Committee. The move came after Bitītis, en route to Athens via Prague, was stopped by Czech airport security guards because he was deemed too drunk to board the airplane. Bitītis was replaced by Jānis Lūsis, the news agency LETA reported.
Latvia seen on NBC
Latvian-Americans no doubt cheered when they saw their homeland’s team appear on the NBC television network’s delayed broadcast of the Aug. 13 opening ceremonies. The network, which for several years had always cut to commercials before the Latvian team appeared, for the second Olympics in a row now has shown the team enter the Olympic stadium. A lobbying effort by Latvian-Americans paid off in 2002 when NBC finally showed the team during the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. The network also was careful this time to acknowledge which teams had entered during the advertising break.
In Canada, however, fans of the Latvian Olympic team were disappointed that the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. once again cut away before the team made its entrance. Several made angry telephone calls to the broadcaster, according to reports received by Latvians Online.
Here’s a recap of how Latvian athletes fared, gleaned from media reports and the official Athens 2004 Web site.
Men’s 20-kilometer race walk: Aigars Fadejevs on Aug. 20 finished ninth overall with a time of 1:22:08, or 2:28 behind gold medalist Ivano Grugnetti of Italy. It was Fadejevs’ best performance this season, according to the Athens 2004 Web site.
Men’s 50-kilometer race walk: After being with the leader pack for part of the Aug. 27 race, Aigars Fadejevs finished in 11th place overall with a time of 3:52:52. That was 14:06 behind gold medalist Robert Korzeniowski of Poland. Modris Liepiņš finished 25th with a time of 4:04:26.
Men’s 110-meter hurdles: Staņislavs Olijars finished second in his Round 1 heat Aug. 24 in a time of 13.27, qualifying for Round 2. The next day in Round 2, Olijars finished first in his heat in a time of 13.26, qualifying for the semifinals. In the Aug. 26 semifinals, Olijars came in third in his group, finishing in a time of 13.20, a season’s best. In the Aug. 27 finals, Olijars dropped by a second, finishing in 13.21 and earning fifth place. The gold medal went to Xiang Liu, who set a new Olympic record with a time of 12.91.
Men’s 800-meter: Dmitrijs Miļkevičs on Aug. 25 finished first in his heat in a time of 1:46.66, qualifying for the semifinals. But in the semifinals, he finished seventh in his group with a time of 1:46.62, not fast enough to qualify for the finals.
Men’s decathalon: Jānis Karlivāns of Latvia finished 25th overall with a score of 7,583, or 1,310 points behind the gold medalist. Karlivāns earned 789 point in the 100-meter race, finishing last in his heat with a time of 11.33. In the long jump, he earned 876 points with a leap of 7.26 meters. Karlivāns got 686 points in the shot put with a toss of 13.30 meters. In the high jump, he earned 776 points with a jump of 1.97 meters. He ran the 400-meter race in 50.54, finishing last in his heat and earning 790 points. In the 110-meter hurdles, Karlivāns scored a personal best, finishing in 14.98 and adding 852 more points. A throw of 43.34 meters in the discus event earned him 733 points. In the pole vault, Karlivāns cleared 4.50 meters, getting another 760 points. But in the javelin event, he finished last in his group with a throw of 52.92 meters, earning 632 points. Finally, in the 1,500-meter race, Karlivāns got another personal best, finishing in 4:38.67 and adding another 689 points. The gold medal was won by Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic.
Men’s javelin throw: Vadims Vasiļevskis and Ēriks Rags qualified Aug. 26 for the final in the event. Vasiļevskis placed third overall in the qualifying rounds, throwing the javelin a distance of 84.43 meters, a personal best. To qualify for the finals, athletes had to record a distance of at least 81 meters, or be among the top 12 overall. Rags placed 11th with a throw of 80.84 meters. Voldemārs Lūsis placed 17th overall after recording a throw of 79.27 meters, not far enough to qualify for the final. In the Aug. 28 final, Vasiļevskis earned the silver medal with a throw of 84.95 meters, another personal best. Rags took seventh place with a throw of 83.14 meters. The gold medal in the event went to Norway’s Andreas Thorkildsen, who tossed the javelin 86.50 meters.
Women’s 20-kilometer race walk: Anita Liepiņa finished the Aug. 23 event in 45th place with a time of 1:39:54, or 10:42 behind gold medalist Athanasia Tsoumeleka of Greece.
Women’s 400-meter hurdles: Ieva Zunda did not qualify for the semifinals, finishing fourth in her heat Aug. 21 with a time of 56.21.
Women’s 10,000-meter race: Jeļena Prokopčuka finished seventh overall in a time of 31:04.10. The gold medal in the Aug. 27 event went to Huina Xing of China, who finished the race in 30:24.36 and set a personal best.
Women’s discus: Dace Ruskule’s best throw in the Aug. 20 qualifying round was 57.43 meters, placing her 14th in her group and 28th overall. But that was not far enough to advance to the finals. The minimum distance required was 62.50 meters.
Women’s javelin throw: Ilze Gribule’s best throw of 54.92 meters on Aug. 25 was not far enough to let her advance to the finals. She finished in 17th place in her group. To advance to the finals, an athlete had to throw the javelin at least 61 meters or be in the top 12.
Women’s long jump: Ineta Radēviča and Valentīna Gotovska failed Aug. 25 to qualify for the final, although Radēviča did record a season’s best in the event. Her best leap was 6.53 meters, placing her 13th overall, missing qualification by just a bit. The top 12 finishers advanced. Gotovska finished 24th overall with a jump of 6.41 meters.
Women’s triple jump: Although she did not advance beyond the qualifying round, Latvia’s Ineta Radēviča set a personal best Aug. 21 in the triple jump with a leap 14.12 meters. She finished 20th overall in the event.
Men’s C-1 500-meter: Dagnis Vinogradovs qualified Aug. 24 for the semifinals with a time of 1:50.776, coming in second in his heat. But in the Aug. 26 semifinals, Vinogradovs was eliminated after he came in fifth in his group with a time of 1:52.511. He needed to be in the top three.
Men’s C-1 1,000-meter: Dagnis Vinogradovs qualified Aug. 23 for the semifinals with a time of 3:57.070, or 4.148 behind the leader in his heat, Andreas Dittmer of Germany. In the Aug. 25 semifinals, Vinogradovs qualified for the final by finishing the course in a time of 3:53.656, coming in fifth overall. In the final, Vinogradovs placed sixth, finishing in 3:53.537. The gold medal went to David Cal of Spain, who finished in 3:46.201.
Men’s road race: Veteran Latvian cyclist Romāns Vainšteins finished 42nd in the 17-lap, 224.4-kilometer race through the historic center of Athens on Aug. 14. Latvia’s other cyclist, Andris Naudužs, did not finish. The gold went to Italy’s Paolo Bettini.
Men’s individual all-around: Igors Vihrovs, who four years ago earned Latvia’s first gold medal ever in a surprise victory in the floor exercise, finished 18th in the Aug. 18 individual all-around event with a score of 55.873, according to LETA and the official Athens 2004 Web site. Vihrovs’ best score was 9.700 in the vault, his lowest 8.862 on the pommel horse. The gold medal went to Paul Hamm of the United States, who finished with a total score of 57.823.
Men’s vault: Jevgeņijs Saproņenko earned Latvia’s first medal of these Olympics—a silver. Saproņenko was one of eight athletes competing in the Aug. 23 final. His two attempts earned 9.712 and 9.700, for a combined total of 9.706. The gold medal went to Gervasio Deferr of Spain, who scored 9.737. The bronze medal went to Marian Dragulescu of Romania, who scored 9.612.
Men’s 73-kilogram: Vsevolods Zeļonijs lost Aug. 16 to Mongolia’s Suldbayar Damdin at the round of 32 level and did not advance. Four years ago, Zeļonijs won the bronze medal.
Men: Deniss Čerkovskis came close to a medal in the Aug. 26 event, finishing fourth overall with a score of 5,356. Čerkovskis came in 11th in the shooting competition, earning 1,096 points. In fencing, he ranked second along with three other athletes, earning 916 ponts. He placed 17th in swimming, adding another 1,252 points. In the riding event, Čerkovskis came in 23rd, earning 1,004 points. And in running he came in third, giving him another 1,088 points. The gold medal was won by Russia’s Andrey Moiseev.
Women: Although she seemed to lag in some events, Jeļena Rubļevska came on strong in fencing and running Aug. 27 and earned a silver medal with a total of 5,380 points. The gold medal went to Zsuzsanna Voros of Hungary, who scored 5,448. In the shooting event, Rubļevska came in 15th and earned 988 points. But in fencing, she came in first, adding 1,028 points. Rubļevska dropped to 21st in swimming, earning 1,160 points. In the riding event, she came in 14th, earning 1,116 points. And in running, Rubļevska took fourth, gaining 1,088 points.
Women’s Mistral class: Windsurfer Vita Matīse on Aug. 25 held on to 20th place overall after completing the last of 11 races. The gold medal went to Faustine Merret of France.
Men’s 25-meter rapid fire pistol: It was a disappointing day Aug. 21 for Afanasijs Kuzmins, who wound up 14th out of 17 competitors. His score was 574. World record holder Ralf Schumann of Germany won the gold medal in the event.
Men’s 100-meter breaststroke: Pāvels Murāns finished fifth in his Aug. 14 heat with a time of 1:06.45. Overall, he ranked 50th. The gold medal in the event went to Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima.
Men’s 100-meter butterfly: Andrejs Dūda finished last his in heat Aug. 19 with a time of 56.81, placing 53rd overall. He did not advance to the semifinals in the event.
Men’s 100-meter freestyle: Romāns Miloslavskis finished first in his heat Aug. 17, setting a new personal best and Latvian record with a time of 50.94, LETA reported. Overall, Miloslavskis finished 35th in the event, not fast enough to advance to the semifinals.
Men’s 200-meter freestyle: Romāns Miloslavskis finished a respectable third in his heat Aug. 15 with a time of 1:50.83, but did not advance to the semifinals in the event.
Men’s 200-meter individual medley: Guntars Deičmans finished fifth in his heat Aug. 18 with a time of 2:03.68, not fast enough to advance to the semifinals. He placed 25th overall.
Men’s 400-meter individual medley: Latvia’s Guntars Deičmans came in seventh in his heat Aug. 14, finishing in 4:29.17, which was 10.62 behind the leader. That wasn’t good enough to advance. The gold medal in the final went to Michael Phelps of the United States, who finished in 4:08.26, breaking world and Olympic records. Deičmans was 30th overall.
Women’s 100-meter freestyle: Agnese Ozoliņa finished fourth in her heat Aug. 18 with a time of 59.03, or 1.65 behind the leader. The time, which placed Ozoliņa 43rd overall, was not fast enough to advance to the semifinals in the event.
+105-kilogram group: Viktors Ščerbatihs on Aug. 25 earned Latvia’s second silver medal of these Olympics. He lifted 205 kilograms in the snatch and 250 kilograms in the clean and jerk, for a total of 455 kilograms. The gold medal went to Hossein Reza Zadeh of Iran.
Men’s 96-kilogram: Latvia’s Igors Kostins lost to Uzbekistan’s Aleksey Cheglakov and Turkey’s Mehmet Ozal in the Aug. 25 elimination rounds.
Estonia and Lithuania compete, too
Lithuania’s surprise 94-90 victory over the United States in an Aug. 21 preliminary round basketball game serves as a reminder that the other two Baltic republics also are competing in the Summer Olympics.
The Lithuanian basketball team, in fact, is one to watch. Through its five games in the preliminaries, the Lithuanians remained undefeated having bested not only the Americans, but also the Puerto Ricans, the Greeks, the Australians and the Angolans. In the Aug. 26 quarterfinals, Lithuania beat China. But in the Aug. 27 semifinals, Italy dealt Lithuania its first loss. That set up an Aug. 28 rematch between Lithuania and the U.S. “dream team,” both fighting for the bronze medal. The Americans, however, exacted their revenge, beating Lithuania 104-96 to claim the bronze.
Lithuania earned three medals, including a gold for Virgilijus Alekna in the men’s discus, a silver for Austra Skujyte in the women’s heptathalon, and a silver for Andrejus Zadneprovskis in the men’s modern pentathalon. Estonia got three, including a silver medal for Jueri Jaanson in the men’s single scull rowing event, a bronze medal for Indrek Pertelson in men’s 100+ kilogram judo, and a bronze for Aleksander Tammert in the men’s discus event.
Flag-bearer Vadims Vasiļevskis is shown on NBC as the Latvian team enters Olympic Stadium during the Aug. 13 opening ceremonies. (Photo by Andris Straumanis)
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