The story behind the ticket: sport

The world needs to keep moving whether it’s traveling for work, primary healthcare, education, transporting life-saving supplies or reuniting families. And while you are at home, contributing by distancing, we are doing our part to keep the world open and running in the safest manner. Because connectivity is essential and we promise that when the world opens up again – we’ll be here, stronger than ever to keep carrying you safely.

To find out what is going on in the world of sports, we have invited Liene Bondare, a professional alpine skier, to share her thoughts. She stresses the importance of the possibility to travel for professional athletes. Missed training sessions and races abroad can be fateful. Skills perfected over the years need regular honing, and when it comes to such sports as downhill skiing, which cannot be practiced on a professional level in Latvia, the chance to train on foreign tracks is crucial.

Photo from Liene Bondare’s private archive

Here is Liene’s story: “Since the age of 15, I have been on the national team, competing for Latvia in international alpine skiing competitions. I’ve participated in five world championships and stood on more than 25 pedestals of the international FIS races. Before the pandemic, travelling was a big part of my life; there are countless tracks in the world, and there’s a huge difference between snow in Scandinavia and Central Europe. The terrain is never the same on two slopes either. Thus, I must train a lot and, coincidentally, travel a lot to develop my skills and remain competitive in the elite.”

Photo from Liene Bondare’s private archive

She admits that when the pandemic first struck, professional sports were put on hold too. „At the very beginning of the pandemic, alpine skiing in Europe stopped for a few months – it was the end of the 2020 season. In the summer, high-performance teams including us were able to return to the mountains and start training again. This season has gone by rather smoothly – we’ve managed to get to both training camps and races. Of course, the number of events has decreased, and the number of participants in one event is limited as well,” Liene says about the new order.

Photo from Liene Bondare’s private archive

She adds that athletes have had to adjust to the new circumstances – a negative test before the race and potential quarantine – but the chance to train and compete in prestigious races is worth any inconvenience.

Things that used to go without saying have now become a privilege. But the chance to travel in these times is not a whim for athletes, but a question of their career. „By losing the chance to get to the snowy peaks, the impact on the performance of Latvia’s national team would be dramatic, and that would destroy our chances of competing on the world level,” concludes Liene.

Photo from Liene Bondare’s private archive

Jānis Straupe, sports manager of the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation, confirms that the Covid-19 pandemic has left a huge impact on professional sports in Latvia and Europe. He adds that youth sports have just about stopped – only the highest level competitions for elite athletes still take place. He points out that a training session is no longer just the time and place for an athlete to improve their skills: “This is now a much more complex process due to the restrictions; you must take several additional factors into account so that the workout is safe regardless of whether it’s an individual athlete or a hockey team of 30 people.”

Just like Liene, Jānis emphasizes that competitions are the reason athletes train in the first place – it’s a chance to test one’s skills, to keep improving and reaching for the highest goals. Even though competitions are more difficult handle because of the restrictions, teams keep participating in events abroad. „A competition is the main motivator for an athlete to wake up in the morning and train. If there are no competitions or no way of getting to them, the athlete loses motivation,” he concludes.

Photo from Latvian Ice Hockey Federation home page

When asked about the challenges of travelling in general, Jānis mentions the huge, heavy bags that the hockey players carry and he’s happy about the accommodating attitude airBaltic has always expressed. In November, airBaltic flew our national hockey team to the 2020 Deutschland Cup, and the team returned home as winners. During these trips, it’s important for the athletes to feel comfortable and for the whole flight to go smoothly; the national airline of Latvia has always been able to take care of that, says Jānis. Soon, the national team will be on their way to Slovenia, while the U-18 team will leave for the USA, and the teams feel safe in knowing that they will be delivered to the destinations safely and comfortably.

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