RIGA - Baltic athletes flexed their exceptional track and field talents during the European Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden last week, sprinting, jumping and throwing their way to gold medal victory. Eleven finals closed the Championships on Aug. 13, in which Baltic athletes tallied up four medals as well as some national records. Although the final day didn't bring Baltic athletes any medals, a day earlier Latvian Stanislav Olijars and Lithuanian Virgilijus Alekna were hailed by their fans for winning gold.
Olijars fared even better than he did at the European Championships four years ago, winning the 110 meter hurdles final to bring Latvia its first and only gold medal of the tournament. Olijars finished the race in 13.24 seconds.
"This was my hardest race," the champion said. "There was some wind against me, so it was physically harder to run. The feeling of winning only came after the race was finished."
During the award ceremony, the sprinter held his medallion with pride as, for the first time in 72 years, Latvia's national anthem was played.
Olijars' victory was made more notable by the fact that he beat world champion Ladji Doucoure who, hampered by injury, was eliminated in the semi-final. The 27-year-old French athlete, who has not won a major championships since the 2000 European Track and Field Indoor Championships, showed a strong race, but fell behind due to a weak Achilles tendon.
Racing in lane six, Olijars started well and quickly pulled ahead of the pack, which followed close behind. Germany's Thomas Blaschek finished milliseconds behind the Latvian in second place.
"I succeeded with luck," Olijars said. "My favorite lanes are the sixth and the seventh."
Britain's Andy Turner, who placed third with 13.52 seconds, showed a phenomenal performance. From the final hurdle to the line, he clocked a time faster than Olijars. The British hurdler has had the best season of his life, and his last-gasp finish brought him a well-deserved bronze medal to match the Commonwealth Games bronze he won in March.
On the same day, Lithuania's Alekna, who snatched the men's discus gold from Estonian Gerd Kanter at the World Championships in Helsinki last summer, doubled the feat.
Alekna, who is one of Lithuania's most revered athletes, dominated the final, winning with his first-round throw of 68.87 meters. The gold medalist went on to impress with five more throws that paled the competition.
Alekna's victory brought Lithuania its first gold at a European Athletics Championships.
Estonia's Kanter finished with a silver medal behind Alekna, yet again. Kanter was the only other thrower to pitch the discus beyond 68 meters, making 68.03 meters in the third round.
Alexander Tammert also gave Estonia reason to gloat. The discus thrower clinched bronze with 66.14 meters. After finishing fourth at the World Championships last year, Tammert at least had the satisfaction of contributing to Estonia's first ever medal count in this event.
A number of other talented athletes competed in this year's European Championships, including Latvia's New York Marathon champion Jelena Prokopcuka, who was disappointed with her sixth place finish in the 10,000 meter race, Vadims Vasilevskis, who took fourth in the javelin throw; Lithuania's Vytautas Seliukas fared well in the long jump and Tomas Intas competed in javelin.
As for Estonia, they had a strong 4x100 meter relay team and two notable shot putters, Taavi Peetre and Raigo Toompuu.