Note: Originally published at Vancouver Access 2010 on Feb 18, 2010 as part of on-going Olympic-related cultural documentation.
Over the past 8 years since attending 2002 Olympic Winter Games in SLC, I’ve spoke to groups at colleges, bars and conferences about the difference between seeing the Olympics on TV and “on the ground.” My examples most always include the first-ever Nepali Winter Olympian (a x-country skiier) and the passion of the Latvian hockey fans as sources of inspiration for my documentation.
Despite the small population and history of totalitarian Soviet control, Latvians ice a team good enough to play in the A Pool but not necessarily good enough to win the big prize. However, you can’t tell them that as any Latvian truly believes their team is as mighty as the rest.
The proudest moment for the Latvian Men’s Hockey Team was when they defeated the Russians in 2000 – in St. Petersburg, Russia – at the World Championships led by (former Vancouver Canucks) goaltender Arturs Irbe.
While speaking at Capilano University about the Olympics, I met a Lativan student named Reinis Spaile who posted my enthusiasm on a Latvian social networking website which produced a throng of Latvian fans following along with my Olympic punditry including my “People’s History” manifesto.
My pal Chris Breikss is of Latvian heritage and we’ve spoke of the unique nature of these fans from the Baltic country. He’s rallied the enthusiasm from the Latvian community into a Latvian Fan Unite Facebook group and began rallying meetups and events to both welcome visitors and explore his own Latvian ancestry (personally i am happy to provide a wee bit of inspiration as i think this internationalizing is the best part of the Olympics).
As it turns out, Chris’ Latvian story is stunning – a real life Dr. Zhivago story of sorts including poets, gulags and love.
As explained in Vancouver Sun article by Gerry Bellett: “Tragic tale prompts Canadian to fly Latvian flag – Chris Breikss’s grandfather was a famous Latvian poet and patriot who starved to death in a Siberian gulag after being arrested in 1941″
The tale involves his grandfather, Leonids Breikss, a famous Latvian poet and patriot who was arrested in 1941 when the Soviet army invaded Latvia.
He was sent to a Siberian gulag, never to be seen again by his family, and died within a year of starvation.
“He was taken because he spoke against the occupation and talked of peace and love for his fatherland,” Breikss said.
Leonids’ wife, who is still alive and lives in Toronto, was pregnant at the time with a son — Chris’s dad, Peter, who would never see his father — and the pair eventually made their way to Canada at the end of the Second World War.
“She’s 91 and still remembers the day they came and took him away from her,” he said.
Chris’ fellowship with the Latvians also included a meet and greet with the President and Prime Minister who visited Vancouver to support their team as evidenced in a video clip from the event: President of Latvia Meets with Vancouver Latvians: The President of Latvia, Valdis Zatlers, met with Vancouver Latvians at the University Golf Club at UBC. Later on this day the Latvian Hockey Team takes on Russia in their first game of the 2010 Olympics.
And finally, while at the men’s hockey game vs. Russia, Chris interviewed two Latvian fans with a compelling story with unfinished research, ergo:
According to Martins and Filips Andersons, the flag that they were wearing at the first Latvian hockey game of the 2010 Olympics was from 1917-1918. This was a time when Latvia was first becoming a country in the 1st World War. Could we have had one of the first Latvian flags in hand? It appears so. More details wanted…
Now, how do I get my hands on English translations of the collected works of Leonids Breikss?