Estonians are a sports-loving people, and the desire for movement runs through their veins.
In addition to participating in sports, Estonians also live vicariously through their fellow countrymen competing at the highest athletic levels. An Estonian athlete’s success in an international competition brings positive emotions and the great joy of victory to all Estonians, and the strong sense of unity allows everyone to forget about everyday troubles for a while.
In the sports world Estonia is best known as a skiing country. Cross-country skiing is an important sport with a long tradition in Estonia. Our greatest successes in the Olympic Games have also come in this field. In addition to the gold and silver medals won by Andrus Veerpalu and the bronze won by Jaak Mae at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, at the 2006 Games in Turin the Estonian hymn was played three times in honour of our Olympic winners. Andrus Veerpalu was once again crowned an Olympic winner among stiff competition, but Kristina Šmigun became the hero of the Turin games with her two gold medal wins. International news agencies were astonished by the fact that the citizens of a small town in southern Estonia called Otepää won three Olympic gold medals—more than Norway, Finland, Russia or Germany. Turin Olympic hero Kristina Šmigun was also successful at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, winning a silver medal.
The cross-country skiing resort of Otepää, a small town in picturesque southern Estonia, is annually filled with sports enthusiasts from abroad when a portion of the cross-country skiing World Cup is held there. During the last 10 years Otepää has secured itself a reputation as a beloved race location because the supportive roar of the crowd cheers on local and guest athletes alike.
During snowy winters, skiing is a pastime for the whole family. The skiing season culminates with the 60-kilometre Tartu Marathon, which challenges thousands of people to pit their physical resolve against the challenging course. The Tartu Marathon is a member of the international Worldloppet series. In 2009, for instance, there were over 6 000 competitors.
During the summer, the eyes of Estonians are on track and field events. The most visible Estonian athlete in Europe in the 1990s was Erki Nool, and in the 2000 Sydney Olympics he won the gold medal in the decathlon. Other Estonian track and field athletes rose up in his footsteps— javelin thrower Andrus Värnik, who became a world champion in 2005, and discus throwers Aleksander Tammert and Gerd Kanter, the latter of which was crowned an Olympic champion at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. He had already reached the peak of world-class discus throwing the year before, when he became the world champion in Osaka. Kanter’s next goal is to set a new world record. Currently the best Estonian track and field athlete of recent years boasts a personal best that is the third-longest throw in discus history.
There are also other talented Estonian track and field athletes who are on their way to the top. Decathlete Mikk Pahapill and long jumper Ksenia Balta won gold medals at the 2009 European Championships, and Kaire Leibak was the winner in the triple jump competition at the 2006 World Junior Championship.
A successful performance at the Olympic Games could be considered every athlete’s dream. Taking into consideration its small population, Estonia has been an extremely successful medal-winner in the past few Olympics. In addition to skiers and track and field athletes, Estonia has also rejoiced over its rowers and judo athletes.
At the 2008 Games in Beijing, Estonian rowers were rewarded for their years of hard work. During his sixth Olympic Games Jüri Jaanson, along with Tõnu Endrekson, won a silver medal in the double sculls event. Jüri Jaanson also won a medal in the previous Olympics, when he earned a bronze in the single sculls event in Athens in 2004. Both Jaanson and Endrekson have many medals on their mantels from world championships as well. Jaanson, a man with a long athletic career, reached world champion status back in 1990.
In another example of Estonian athleticism, Indrek Pertelson and Alexei Budõlin have both done well internationally in the sport of judo. Each won a bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and Pertelson added another one in 2004 in Athens.
The team sports of basketball and football are also popular in Estonia. The fan bases are vast and each year fans eagerly await the national teams reaching the finales of major tournaments.
Estonia’s sporting highlight for 2010 was the European Figure Skating Championships, which is the biggest competition to take place in Estonia in the last few decades. The events were viewed on TV by over a million skating fans worldwide. Estonia’s top skater Elena Glebova competed successfully, backed by the support of the local fans.
Sports do not only excite people, but they can also play a significant role in promoting international friendship and co-operation. Therefore, Estonians are happy and proud that the success of their athletes is playing a part in the process of bettering relations between nations.