With the 2008 Olympic Games just a week away, few in the Baltic states doubt that their country will take home a bit of Olympic glory 's and collect the wads of cash each country's athletes Olympic committee has promised the winners.
This year's games are politically controversial because they are being held in China, a country with poor human rights records. On June 30 China announced that they are taking emergency measure to make sure there is no trouble in Lhasa the capital of Tibet.
There have also been concerns above the quality of the air and conditions for the athletes. China is heavily industrialized and this had led to severe environment damage.
Still, this is the Olympics. They only come round once every four years. It's a chance for the region to showcase itself to the world. So let's hope everybody can get behind our athletes.
Like the rest of the Baltic states, Estonia is strongest in the winter sports 's it took home three gold medals in cross-country skiing in 2006 's but Toomas Tonise, head of the Estonian Olympic Committee, sees several strong contenders. Among them is discus thrower Gerdi Kander and sprinter Marek Niit.
"We have several opportunities," Tonise said.
Kander and Niit stand to pocket 100,000 euros for a gold medal, 70,000 euros for a silver one, and 50,000 euros for a bronze.
Tonise brushed off concerns about the cash awards. "A lot of people are wondering why this is. All I can say is that many other countries are playing bonus. The other Baltic countries are doing it," he said.
In Estonia the Olympics are seen as an opportunity to make the nation healthier and more active.
"Medals are also tools," Tonise said
"Sport has always been very popular in Estonia. We hope that that if we win a gold it will give inspiration to young people. We are hoping that more people get active," Tonise said
When Estonia won three gold medals at the last winter Olympics the whole nation went wild.
Estonia last big Olympic winner was Erki Nool who won the gold medal in the decathlon in 2000 at the Sydney Games.
Tonise is sure that the this year's Games will generate the same level of exciting what ever the outcome.
"You can see the eyes of young people. How excited they get when watching sport," Tonise said.
The excitement is almost tangible. Bars and cafes are abuzz as Latvians debate their chances at a medal in the upcoming Beijing Games. Few think the country will be unable to win at least one small chunk of Olympic glory.
Of the three Baltic states, Latvia has the fewest Olympic medals to its name 's to date the country has won only 14 medals in the summer Games. Chances are strong, however, that this year athletes will be able to add to that number.
The Latvian Olympic Committee has invested nearly 1.25 million lats (1.78 million euros) in preparing athletes for this year's events. The investment has paid off, as Latvia will be sending 45 competitors 's the largest delegation since the Atlanta Games in 1996 's to Beijing.
These athletes will compete in a total of 11 different events, including judo, canoeing, modern pentathlon, swimming, cycling, weight lifting, shooting, tennis, track and field, athletics and beach volleyball.
Marite Vilcine of the Latvian Olympic Committee told The Baltic Times that many of the young athletes are nervous about the Games to come.
"I think the athletes that have Olympic experience, they aren't nervous. But the young athletes, some of them are getting nervous," she said.
Latvia's best shot at the gold 's and the gold medal 's probably lies with Viktors Scerbatihs, the famous parliamentarian weightlifter from Dobele. Though still an MP with the Greens and Farmers Union, Scerbatihs has taken time off from his lawmaking duties to train for the Games.
The strongman took the silver in the 2004 Athens Olympics and now has his sights set on the gold. To take the prize, however, he will have to overcome Hossein Rezazadeh, the current clean-and-jerk world champion, who has been dubbed the "Iranian Hercules."
Latvia's second-strongest bet is javelin thrower Vadims Vasilevskis, although he is recovering from an injury. Vasilevskis took silver in the 2004 Games and since then has topped his own personal record with a throw of 90.74 meters, making him the 10th-best javelin thrower of all time.
The Latvian Olympic Committee has invested nearly 1.25 million lats (1.78 million euros) in preparing athletes for this year's events, and the investment has paid off 's 45 Latvian athletes have qualified, the largest delegation since the Atlanta games in 1996.
The secretary general of the Lithuanian Olympic Committee, Vytautas Zubernis, has high hopes for the Summer Games. "Our biggest hope is, of course, basketball. It goes without saying," he said. The powerful team took home three consecutive bronzes before coming in fourth in 2004.
The men's basketball team face stiff competition form other countries including Argentina, Spain, Russia and the United States.
No doubt it will be emotionally satisfying for the team to meet and defeat the Russians.
But other competitors should not be ignored. The Olympic Committee said the country has at least five other medal hopefuls: Virgilijus Alekna (discus), Andrejus Zadneprovskis and Edvinas Krungolcas (modern pentathlon), Simona Krupeckaite (track cycling) and Mindaugas Ezerskis (wrestling).
"Also, we are quite confident in our track-and-field athletes Virgilijus Alekna and Austra Skujyte," Zubernis said.
The Lithuanian Olympics Committee also generously rewards its winning athletes, providing payouts to any Lithuanian athlete who places eighth or better. A gold medal earns 400,000 litas (115,848 euros), a silver 200,000 litas (57,924 euros), and a bronze 100,000 litas (28,962 euros), and so on in decreasing order
Lithuania in sending about 65 competitors to the games making it the largest delegation sent by any Baltic state.