Latvia might be home to just over 2 million people, but the nation is known for its sporting endeavors. For a country of its size, Latvians are known to punch over their weight on the global stage. However, in contrast with major European countries, football is not the most popular sport in this Baltic state. In fact, it may not even be the second most popular sport in the country. On that note, here’s a list of the most popular sports in the nation.
Top 5 Popular Sports in Latvia
1. Ice Hockey – Since hockey is Latvia’s National Sports, countless new talents appear every year before moving on to global platforms like the NHL, KHL, and similar prominent hockey leagues. Latvia’s love affair with hockey began during the early 30s and the National Team was soon formed. From the early days, the Latvian hockey team stood out from its rivals and the nation’s first artificial ice rink was set up in 1960. Popular Latvian hockey players include Sandis Ozoliņš, Kārlis Skrastiņš, and Zemgus Girgensons.
2. Football – Despite Latvia’s cold climate, football has long been a part of the nation’s sporting heritage. Qualifying for the 2004 UEFA European Championship is a notable achievement. One of the talking points of the tournament includes the time when the Latvians held the mighty Germans to a 0-0 draw. Although football isn’t the most widely watched sport in Latvia, it enjoys quite a bit of patronage. Quite a few pro league players emerged from the country over the years. A few notable personalities include Marians Pahars and Māris Verpakovskis. For more information on Latvian football, click here.
3. Basketball – Latvia was among the eight founding members of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). And the national team won the inaugural tournament in 1935. Riga is Europe’s only capital city to hold both of the main trophies from European club tournaments simultaneously – ASK Riga and TTT Riga. The Latvians are proud of their basketball legends. A few greats include Uljana Semjonova, Kristaps Porziņģis, Dāvis Bertāns, and Andris Biedriņš. Latvia has a strong history with the NBA, and the association continues to this day.
4. Individual Sports – Winter sports like bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton racing hold great prestige and importance in Latvia. And native athletes are known to excel at such sports on a global stage. Martins Dukurs (skeleton racing) has been at the top of his game for quite a while now and have quite a few accolades to his name. Compatriots Jānis Miņins and Sandis Prūsis have dominated bobsleighing during the 80s while Oskars Melbārdi and Co. took silver in 2014 and gold in 2015 and 2016.
5.Athletics – Javelin throwers have been Latvia’s pride and joy and the tradition began in 1956 with Inese Jaunzeme winning the first Olympic gold medal in Melbourne. Ainars Kovals kept up the tradition by taking home the silver medal during the 2004 Athens Olympics in Beijing in 2008. In 2011 Zigismunds Sirmais set a new world junior record by being the reigning European champion. Also worth mention is Madara Palameika, the winner of the 2016 Diamond League Series and a Latvian record holder.