Latvia’s Berzins inspired to luge gold by Lillehammer 2016 champion

Latvia’s Gints Berzins had particular motivation at the top of the luge track on Saturday: to defend the title won by countryman Kristers Aparjods in the same discipline at Lillehammer 2016.

Picture by OIS/IOC

“Aparjods is such an inspiration to me. I really like his style and driving,” Berzins said. “He wanted gold, and so did I. I cannot feel any happier.”

And that motivation worked. The 17-year-old Berzins took gold in emphatic style, beating Pavel Repilov (RUS) into second place and Germany’s Timon Grancagnolo to bronze.

Latvia is living up to its reputation as a traditional power in sliding sports with several medal-winning performances in luge at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games.

Berzins’ gold followed the silver won by Kaspars Rinks and Ardis Liepins in the men’s doubles on Friday, and later on Saturday, Viktorija Ziedina and Selina Elizabete Zvilna claimed bronze in the women’s doubles.

Berzins, who is tied on points with Grancagnolo at the top of this season’s International Luge Federation Youth World Cup, had declared himself the man to beat before the start of competition.

“For me there is no second or third place, only the first place counts,’’ he said after his training run on Tuesday.

In snowy conditions for Saturday’s race, Berzins justified his self-confidence by clocking the fastest time in both competition runs to secure gold.

While the result did not surprise him, spotting his parents and girlfriend in the crowd as he stood on the medal podium certainly did.

“I did not know they were going to be here,” he said. “I only found out when I got my medal and saw them. It is a great surprise.”

Having enjoyed his first taste of Olympic success, Berzins is now even more determined to follow the path of his Latvian role model.

“Aparjods won gold and went on to compete at the Winter Games [in PyeongChang],” he said. “That is what I want to do as well.

“It is my dream to compete at Beijing 2022. I am going to do anything I can to make that possible. But I now also look forward to celebrating with my family.”