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Roberts Kruzbergs (LAT) © International Skating Union (ISU)

Ask people in or outside Riga, the capital of Latvia, what they know about Short Track Speed Skating and most will probably say they’ve never heard of it. The country can hardly be considered a winter sports powerhouse but 20-year-old Roberts Kruzbergs (LAT) hopes to improve that and get his compatriots talking about his passion. 

“People in Latvia don’t really talk about the sport,” says Kruzbergs, who is one of three Latvian representatives at this season’s ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating, alongside Reinis Berzins and Endijs Vigants. “I hope that in the future we will have a bigger team so that it becomes more popular. We can only compete against each other back home.”  

Growing up in western Latvia's port city of Ventspils, Kruzbergs would go from his school to a public ice rink in his neighborhood to skate with friends. One day he was approached by a Short Track coach to join his team.

Kruzbergs was not really sure what to expect at first. “My older brother Karlis was already into Short Track so I decided to go with him to a training session,” he says. “But I didn’t even know I would get real skates when I got there.

“I was five years old, and fifteen years later I’m still skating. I thought the sport was similar to NASCAR – you  need to go around the track and see who can be the fastest. The speed really attracted me.”

Kruzbergs has been going from strength to strength within the sport. In 2020, he achieved a career-best result in an individual event at a senior ISU Championships, when he advanced to the B final of the Men’s 1000m at the ISU European Short Track Championships in Hungary, ranking eighth. It proved to be a decisive moment.

“You need the financial support from the Latvian Olympic Committee to cover the costs for the season,” he says. “Each year there are a few competitions where you can earn a sponsorship if you finish with the best eight skaters in a distance.

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Roberts Kruzbergs (LAT) leads at the ISU World Junior Short Track Championships in 2019 © International Skating Union (ISU)

“The European Championships was the last competition where I could possibly skate top eight that year. It was pretty risky because you can easily crash or get a penalty in a race.”

Kruzbergs held his nerve.

“I felt so relieved,” he says, “like I had achieved my goal for the season. It meant that I could continue skating.”

His brother failed to secure a sponsorship that same year, however, and now works as a Short Track coach in their hometown. “He’s trying to help small kids to get better at the sport, and he also supports me a lot. He asks me almost every day how I feel and gives me advice on what I can do better, telling me to stay calm and to just focus on myself.”

Kruzbergs has proved once again this year that he is worthy of his place on the World Cup circuit, as he also qualified for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games in February. The ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating series consists of four events during 2021/22 instead of the usual five or six and they are all qualifying competitions for Beijing.