BERNE – For the sixth consecutive IIHF World Championship, they’re an
eye- and lens-catching attraction in hockey arenas. We're talking about
Jolanta, Kerija and Zane, the three Latvian women who make it year by
year onto the jumbotron, in television broadcasting or on newspaper
Zane is the most experienced of the blonde trio. Her
career as a World Championship fan started in Germany 2001, when Latvia
played in Cologne and Nuremberg. In 2003, she took her university
classmate Jolanta along with her when Latvia played in Turku, Finland.
Meanwhile, in 2002, Kerija made her debut in Karlstad, Sweden.
three Riga natives say their best World Championship trip was the 2004
edition in Prague. “That’s where we met the first time,” they note,
pointing to their hair as the most obvious similarity apart from the
national team jerseys. And it was also the last time Latvia made it to
“But the best World Championship, as many
fans from other countries also told us, was 2006 in Riga,” Zane says.
“It was an amazing hockey atmosphere there, and there was so much going
on in the city. Many people came to us there and said they saw us on
TV. Sometimes we feel a bit like representatives of our country.”
of course they all also enjoy going abroad to see the annual hockey
summit. “We have to save money throughout the year, but it has become
our tradition to be at the World Championship every year,” Zane
Part of the World Championship's charm involves
meeting other fans and celebrating with them. Sometimes the three stay
in touch with contact with fans of other teams, and sometimes they just
meet them again by accident. “When we went to Zurich for a game of
Slovakia, some Slovaks recognized us even though we weren't wearing
Latvian fan gear,” says Zane.
It only took a couple of games for
them to catch the lenses of photo and video cameras during this year’s
tournament. Kerija shows a page from 20 Minuten
, one of
Switzerland’s most read newspapers, which ran a photo of the trio. They
got a copy from a Swiss fan. “The Swiss are very kind and helpful
here,” Kerija says.
During our interview, there was no lack of
male admirers asking for a photo. These fans have their own fans,
evidently. The women are sometimes ready for this, and sometimes not.
Such as when a roller hockey player from Barcelona, Spain, asked them
to don his club’s jersey for a photo. “We only wear the Latvian
jersey,” they told him.
Kerija is also the president of one of
the Latvian fan organizations. About 2,500 Latvians made the trip to
PostFinance Arena despite the current financial crisis, which hit the
Baltic country more than any other in the European Union. “Most came by
car or minibus,” she explains. “It’s not so far this time.” Of course,
perceptions of distance are relative. It's a journey of about 2,200
kilometres, or 30 hours, from Riga to Berne.
Some of the Latvian
fans didn't have to travel quite that far. There are Latvian
expatriates living in other European countries who joined the fans in
maroon. In fact, 958 Latvian residents were registered in Switzerland
at the end of 2008.
Many fans are staying in Interlaken instead
of Berne, she explains. It's an idyllic town between two lakes, nestled
at the foot of the Alps just 50 kilometres east of Berne. “We feel a
bit like it’s our town now, but there are also some fans from other
countries coming for the final stages, like Czechs and Swedes,” Zane
The trio are in accord about who’s their favourite player.
“We don’t have one. Hockey is a team sport, and we support the whole
team,” Jolanta said. “But we sometimes also like to stay up late at
night to watch NHL games.”
Right now, however, it’s time to
focus on the IIHF World Championship. And it looks like another good
year for Latvia, possibly the best since making the quarterfinals in
Prague five years ago. For the first time in World Championship
history, the Latvian national team beat Sweden and Switzerland. Both
times, it happened in a shootout.
“It was such a wonderful
victory,” Jolanta says of the 2-1 win over the host Swiss. “Especially
after the Swiss had tied the game so late.”
A win in regulation
time tomorrow against France would bring Latvia to seven points, which
means that they would almost have nailed down a quarterfinal berth. The
maroon-and-white team plays its last Qualification Round game against
Russia. That's another big game, but this little country has showed in
the past that it has what it takes to defeat its superpower neighbour.
In the last two World Championship matchups between the countries,
Latvia upset Russia 2-1 (2003, Turku) and 3-2 (2000, St. Petersburg).