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When the Baltics thrilled the world

  • 2001-10-25
  • Aleksei Gunter and Rokas M. Tracevskis
An accomplishment is nothing to sniff at, whether it involves a daredevil stunt or eating a crate of bananas - skins and all. Some people spend years attempting to make or break a record, all to get a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records and a taste of the accompanying five minutes of fame.

While each of the Baltic states has a record or two in the book, Lithuania and Estonia are more passionate about their unique deeds than Latvia is.

Tartu resident Heino Kees, 72, is an Estonian records expert. He has written four books about them, the latest of which is due to be published by Christmas.

"I also planned a book called Estonian Guinness," he told The Baltic Times, "but the London office of the Guinness World Records continues to refuse to have this kind of book published."

About records mania in the Baltics, he said, "In Lithuania and Estonia it's at the proper level, but in Latvia there's definitely a lack of interest in setting or recording records."

It is unusual to find something Lithuania and Estonia have in common. But citizens in both countries are very proud of their extreme achievements.

The Lithuanian Factum Agency is a non-governmental organization that registers all of the countries tallest and heaviest people, highest buildings, biggest sunflowers and other astounding ephemera. The agency even issues the Lithuanian Book of Records, the first edition of which was issued back in 1990.

Factum cooperates with the Guinness Book of World Records, injecting the famous tome with Lithuanian achievements.

"We are constantly updating our lists of Lithuanian records, and we send them to Guinness every year. In fact, the latest installment was sent just recently, and now we're waiting for confirmation they are world records," Vytautas Navaitis, Factum's director, told The Baltic Times.

A similar agency exists in Tartu. "But it's not a Pan-Baltic fad," he commented, "because unfortunately there's no such organization in Latvia."

Fast car

On Sept. 9, Jurijus Risnovskis, a 25-year-old stunt driver, was successful in driving his Mazda in a stunning loop-the-loop at Vilnius' Zalgiris stadium. The track was specially designed for the record-breaking spectacle.

Though many have seen the equivalent of this stunt on most roller coasters rides, few have witnessed a car successfully do it. In order to perform such a stunt, it was necessary to get up enough speed and centripetal force so that the car could not fall from the top of the loop.

"Nobody in the world has done this before. I was over the moon to be able to send material about this event to the Guinness book," Navaitis said.

The widely publicized stunt has been addictive. On Sept. 16, 30-year-old Vytis Indziulis attempted to repeat the trick in Kaunas. His car fell from the top of the loop, but he wasn't badly hurt.

On Oct. 20, a third stunt driver, Kaunas resident Sigitas Karazas, 27, drove his own Mazda around a loop-the-loop in Panevezys. Observers testified that his loop-the-loop was the "cleanest" of the three, without even grazing his car against the safety fences specially designed for this crazy trick. They thought it the most worthy of registration in the Guinness book, but we have yet to see which one appears.

The world's youngest hero is a Lithuanian. Ausra Sakalauskaite, three years and two months old, saved her seven-month-old brother from their family's burning house in the Kupiskis region on Feb. 7, 1995.

The Guinness Book of World Records writes that three out of the five biggest ferries in the world are named Klaipeda, Kaunas and Vilnius and float under the Lithuanian flag. The two other ferries belong to Germany and sail the waters between Lithuania's port of Klaipeda and Germany.

The world's largest nuclear reactor is in Lithuania's north-eastern region of Ignalina.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus is in the Guinness Book of World Records. He is registered as the state leader who lived in his country for the shortest period of time before his election. After more than 50 years of exile, he returned from the United States to Lithuania in 1997 and was elected president after several months.

Andrius Baltuska, a scientist from Klaipeda working at Groningen University in the Netherlands, registered the shortest flash of light. It lasted for 4.5 femtoseconds (if it's any more illuminating, a femtosecond is one quadrillionth of a second).

And that's not all.

Beard power

Antanas Kontrimas, a brewer from Telsiai, lifted a 59-kilogram fashion model with his beard during a Guinness World Records show in Hollywood in the spring of 2001. But just as Guinness was planning to incorporate the feat in the 2002 edition of the book, Algimantas Rauktys, a fisherman from Juodkrante, lifted a 63.5 kilogram beer barrel with his beard during a seaside festival, smashing Kontrimas' world record.

Documents about Rauktys' record were sent to Guinness with video and photographic evidence.

Lastly for Lithuania, the largest comet ever recorded was registered by Kazimieras Cernis of Lithuania on July 18, 1983.

Estonia also has something to brag about. Banana eating, anecdote telling, Lego construction, and spirit production (naturally) are what Estonia can boast of, though not everything has made its way into the famous book.

In 1998, 6,000 Estonian youngsters built a 24.9 meter high tower from Lego construction kits. It took five days to complete the immense plastic building. This task was probably inspired by a feeling of competition with Moscow, where a similar tower was built earlier.

The Estonian Lego monster was 25 centimeters taller and weighed in at over two tons. Half a million Lego pieces were involved.

In 1997, the Estonian Florists Association made the world's largest bridal bouquet at a flower fair in Helsinki. The bouquet was made up of 5,000 tulips and roses, and weighed a whopping 150 kilograms.

Banana unsplit

People have been known to torture themselves to set a record. Kess mentions in his record chronicles that Mait Lepik of Tallinn ate 10 bananas in their skins - that's 1.4 kilograms - in three minutes. A trip to the Canary Islands was the prize, although it was said that Lepik avoided bananas during his stay there. Unfortunately, this act of unbelievable gluttony failed to make it into the book of world records.

Another curio Kess writes about took place in July 1996, when the Tartu Rescue Department commando was called to a residential home on an emergency case and unwittingly set a rather dramatic record. A woman who weighed 300 kilograms, previously registered as the fattest person in Estonia, accidentally fell on her kitchen floor and couldn't get up. The five men were just enough to get her on her feet again.

Radio Tartu comedian Erki Kolu told 500 jokes in the café of the city's Vanemuine Theater in November 1997. Although it took him only 57 minutes to set a world record, his original plan was to tell just 480 jokes.

Valdo Jahilo, Kolu's partner working at the same radio station, assisted Kolu in another funny record breaker - a crazy anecdote marathon - the following summer. They told anecdotes for 61 hours straight. This record, however, did not make it into the record book as the Guinness committee had decided to stop the registration of endurance records.

"Those 61 hours were something I would not like to repeat," remembers Kolu, adding he received no financial reward from the exhausting event.

The Rakvere Shakespeare Company, a society of fanatical fans of the great bard, presented "Hamlet" from beginning to end in just 40 seconds in November 1996 in Tallinn. A true hymn to laconicism, the event may seem an outrage to Shakespeare's heritage, but it nevertheless set a world record.

Latvia is credited with two Guinness world records. In 1998, the country registered the lowest birth rate on the planet for that year: eight births per 1,000 people.

The second record is one it shares with Lithuania and Estonia, for the world's longest human chain. On August 23, 1989, about 2 million people joined hands to form the Baltic Way. It stretched 595 kilometers across the three countries, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

In December 1999, Latvia broke the record for the longest bread twist. It happened in Jelgava, prompted by Valentina Petkevica, where a 9.999 meter, 125 kilogram loaf was made. It took six hours to bake, at the town's Latvijas Keramika (Latvian Ceramics) kilns.

Unfortunately, the record held for just a year. It was smashed this summer when a bunch of Poles beat Latvia by almost 2 meters.