Sliding in Latvia Part 1

Papa’s Got a Brand New Sliding Track

Martins Dukurs 2010 Vancouver

Martins Dukurs of Latvia has done everything else but has never won Olympic gold. He was second in Vancouver in 2010 (above) despite leading after the first three runs. A tiny mistake allowed Jon Montgomery of Canada to slide away from him on his home track.

He won silver once again in Sochi in 2014, having dominated the World Cup. Alexander Tretiakov of Russia knew the track better and the victory was iced by his home support.

But Dukurs cannot begrudge the extra practice which is inevitably afforded to Olympic host sliders. For the moral of his tale is not that anything can be achieved through many hours of hard work. The moral is that anything can be achieved through many hours of hard work, so long as your father also happens to manage an international sliding track.

The Magic of Sigulda

Nothing should be taken away from Dukurs, who deserves everything he has achieved, and deserves to have achieved more. Nor am I downplaying the importance of practice – quite the opposite, in fact – his story highlights the necessity of having access to a place to practice. Having the right genes is of no benefit if there is nowhere to learn new skills.

Dukurs probably got some useful genes from his father, Dainis, a former bobsledder, but the key point in his life came in 1994, when Dainis got that all important job in Sigulda.

Sigulda is one of a handful of tracks in the world, so it was a golden opportunity of which Dainis Dukurs took full advantage. But he still had to put in plenty of effort coaching his sons, and it paid off. His other son, Tomass, finished fourth in both Vancouver and Sochi.

Rennrodelweltcup Altenberg 2015 (Martin Rulsch) 5217

Another Latvian family also kept friction to a minimum at both Games. Brothers, Juris and Andris Sics (above), twice put in a smooth performance to win a luge doubles medal.

The Sics brothers were born in Sigulda. It is plainly not a coincidence that Latvia’s three most successful Winter Olympians spent their formative years in the same small town.

Eis Eis Baby

Of the sixteen main artificially refrigerated luge tracks in the world, no less than four are in Germany, and Germany (East and West) has won more than half of all Olympic medals in luge. Since reunification, it has also won eight gold medals in bobsleigh, making it by far the most decorated nation. This is not a coincidence either. An unexpected legacy of the division of Germany is that its Communist-era tracks have now been democratised.

Latvia has also emerged from the Cold War with an East German designed track from the days of the Soviet Union. As a result, a country which would otherwise be too small to have its own track can more than hold its own against some much larger rivals. The number of tracks matters far more than population as a determinant of sliding success.

But Latvia’s size does give it one disadvantage. It is unlikely to host the Olympic Games in the near future and Martins Dukurs will never compete for medals on his home track. It is something that he will have to overcome if he ever wants to claim that elusive gold.

Next week: Latvians had a love of sliding before the Sigulda track had even been built

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