Friday (July 23) marks the beginning of the long-awaited Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics and even though coronavirus is still ravaging the Japanese capital, athletes and national delegations are eager to compete. ERR News looks at the Estonian athletes set to participate at the event and where you can watch it unfold.
The Olympic Games were postponed last year due to the coronavirus and its concurrent uncertainty. The Games were put back to 2021, while there is no lack of criticism and calls for cancellation this year either, as infection rates in Tokyo have climbed to record levels. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its president Thomas Bach have been clear in their desire to host the Games as safely as can be done. Their determination has been echoed by Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga and Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, on multiple occasions.
A solid minority of Japanese people have not taken the bait, however, creating online petitions and a "Bach Go Home" social media campaign to call for the Olympics to be canceled once again. Among the most prominent names to call for cancellations is the Japanese government's head COVID-19 adviser Shigeru Omi, who has claimed staging the Olympics amid a pandemic is "abnormal".
Still, the IOC, Olympic organizers and Japan have pushed on to try and get the event up and running. A massive Olympic village has been developed with very strict COVID-19 prevention measures in place to house the athletes and other delegation members. Thomas Bach has repeatedly said the Japanese people should trust organizers and that there is "zero risk" of participants at the Games spreading COVID-19 to the Japanese public. He has even asked premier Yoshihide Suga if fans can be allowed in the stands if the situation improves, which seems like a reach a week before the event is supposed to start.
But we have all heard and experienced quite a bit about the coronavirus and should now instead enjoy watching the world's best take the stage for their attempt to write sports history.
Estonia is sending 34 athletes, plus a horse, to Tokyo, with many of them making a debut on the biggest athletics stage in the world. These athletes will perform in a total of 14 disciplines, an Estonian record.
ERR News has put together a guide for the Estonian national team:
The Estonian 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games team
We would be remiss to not mention the athletes who will miss the events such as 2019 world silver medalist javelin thrower Magnus Kirt (injury), 2015 world silver medalist weightlifter Mart Seim (lack of qualifying competition after COVID-19 recovery) and tennis player Kaia Kanepi (recovery after tournament season). 2012 Olympic silver medalist Heiki Nabi will also miss the Olympics after having a two-year competition ban imposed on him for doping.
With that out of the way, here is the Estonian Olympic delegation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics:
Athletics: Ksenija Balta, Roman Fosti, Tiidrek Nurme, Rasmus Mägi, Maicel Uibo, Johannes Erm, Karel Tilga
To go with the spirit of the Olympic Games, we are going to start with the Athletics national team.
Perhaps it is the Estonian in me reminiscing about Erki Nool's triumph in the decathlon in Sydney in 2000, but the group of decathletes (Maicel Uibo, Johannes Erm, Karel Tilga) is an interesting mix. Uibo won the silver medal at the 2019 world championships in Doha with a result of 8,604 points but has not shown his best form recently.
The best Estonian decathlete this year has been Karel Tilga, who became the NCAA champion in June with an inconsistent two-day performance bringing him 8,261 points. Johannes Erm is also a former NCAA champion, fulfilling the Olympic standard in 2019 with a result of 8,445 points. Each of these three men has the potential to compete for the title of "World's Greatest Athlete" in Tokyo.
400 m hurdler Rasmus Mägi is also someone to keep an eye on, as the 29-year old has come slightly closer to his personal best of 48.40 seconds over the Olympic preparation period. He is a former European silver and finished sixth in his previous Olympic appearance in 2016.
Long jumper Ksenija Balta is heading to her third career Olympics. A lengthy battle with injuries has certainly kept Balta from reaching stability in her career but a gold medal from the European Indoor Championships back in 2009 shows the woman can compete with the best.
Estonia is also represented in the marathon event with Tiidrek Nurme and Roman Fosti both donning the blue-black-white national kit on August 8.
Wrestling: Epp Mäe, Artur Vititin
One of Estonia's best athletes relative to her sport is heavyweight freestyle wrestler Epp Mäe, who recently became the European champion after defeating decorated Olympic champion Natalia Vorobieva in the finals. Mäe also holds two bronze medals from world championships (2015, 2019) and another bronze from the European championships in 2017 and could be one of Estonia's best chances for a medal.
Mäe is joined by Artur Vititin, a heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestler whose Olympic standard was fulfilled with a 5th-place finish in the U-23 European championships in 2019.
Shooting: Peeter Olesk
Another medal hopeful is shooter Peeter Olesk, who is on a hot streak lately, collecting medals from multiple World Cup and European championship events. Olesk is a versatile shooter and has been successful in multiple shooting disciplines, but winning the European championship in the 25m center fire pistol in June is a highlight.
Rowing: Tõnu Endrekson, Jüri-Mikk Udam, Allar Raja, Kaspar Taimsoo, Johann Poolak (reserve)
The Estonian quadruple sculls team has always been a competitor at major events with multiple medals to show for it. The team now has a new addition, perhaps the most distinct one in the entire national team, with Jüri-Mikk Udam sporting the mullet-mustache look. Endrekson, Raja and Taimsoo are main-stays in the Estonian rowing community and are certainly looking for a good showing in Tokyo.
Judo: Grigori Minaškin
Recent judo Grand Slam bronze medalist Grigori Minaškin is Estonia's lone representative in the judo event. A low blow to his opponent knocked Minaškin out of the European championships in April, but the 30-year old is looking to bounce back at the Olympics. His last appearance in the Olympics was in 2016, when he was eliminated in the second round.
Tennis: Anett Kontaveit
Perhaps the most popular Estonian representative for the Olympic Games is tennis star Anett Kontaveit and while her recent Grand Slam performance at Wimbledon left much to be desired, the Estonian has been on something of a hot streak to start the summer, reaching the finals of WTA Eastbourne tournament in late June. Kontaveit heads to her first Olympics as the world's 25th ranked women's tennis player.
Fencing: Erika Kirpu, Julia Belyaeva, Katrina Lehis, Irina Embrich
The Estonian women's epee (fencing) team is headed by Katrina Lehis, who will also participate in the individual tournament. The fencing national team was crowned world champions in 2017 and team leader Katrina Lehis has told ERR that the team is looking for the most desired medal and the team is confident that the talent gap between them and teams such as China and Russia has decreased since the previous Olympics.
Sailing: Ingrid Puusta, Karl-Martin Rammo
Sailors Ingrid Puusta (RS:X) and Karl-Martin Rammo (Laser) are set to represent Estonia in two classes of the sailing events. Puusta achieved 11th place at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Rammo finished 21st at the same event.
Equestrian: Dina Ellermann
Dina Ellermann and her trusty equine partner Donna Anna will make history as the first Estonians to participate in the equestrian at the Olympics. The rider had a small hope of making it to the Games, but after one nation turned down an offer to participate, Ellermann and Donna Anna got their Olympic ticket.
Triathlon: Kaidi Kivioja
Triathlete Kaidi Kivioja remains the only Estonian to ever represent her country in the Olympic Games. Her debut in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 ended with a 44th-place finish. Kivioja has noted that the conditions in Tokyo suit her - a technical cycle route, flat running trails and quite rare warm-water swimming.
Swimming: Eneli Jefimova, Kregor Zirk, Martin Allikvee
The Estonian swimming delegation is headed by Kregor Zirk, whose tries since April to fulfill the Olympic standard seemed to always fall short by just a few tenths of a second. He finally reached the goal on May 30 in Monaco and said he went into that specific competition without much stress about the standard. That is not to say his spring was not successful as the Estonian consistently improved on Estonian records in the process and is looking to make some noise in Tokyo. Zirk is joined by Martin Allikvee.
The two men are complemented by 14-year old Eneli Jefimova, who was just recently crowned the junior's European champion in the 100 m breaststroke. The 14-year old also participated in the senior's European championships in May and holds multiple Estonian records, just as Zirk does.
Badminton: Kristin Kuuba, Raul Must
Estonia will be well represented in the badminton event with Kristin Kuuba participating in the women's singles tournament and Raul Must competing in the men's singles. Kuuba will be making her Olympic debut while Must is an Olympic veteran, going into his fourth appearance on the greatest sports stage in the world.
Archery: Reena Pärnat
Reena Pärnat will become the only Estonian woman to get to the Olympics twice, her last appearance was in 2012, when she achieved 52nd place after being eliminated in the first round of the competition. Pärnat said that while her London stint may have become as something of a surprise, the more experienced version of herself is more prepared to handle the pressure, but a shoulder injury may keep her back some.
Cycling: Tanel Kangert, Peeter Pruus, Janika Lõiv
Last but certainly not least, is the Estonian cycling national team, headed by 34-year old Tanel Kangert, who has several top-20 finishes at Grand Tour events. The veteran rider has played the role of supporting rider for his regular Team BikeExchange and has noted to ERR that he has not felt this fresh in years.
Kangert is joined in the road race by Peeter Pruus, who actually dropped the discipline four years ago to focus on mountain biking instead. He told ERR in May that he still gets on the roads a few times a week and noted that coming back to his former specialty it is like riding a bike. Sorry.
Janika Lõiv completes the Estonian team from our listing, reaching her first Olympic bid after picking up mountain biking just five years ago. Lõiv was formerly a long-distance runner, but a foot injury forced her to re-evaluate her choice in sport.
Where to watch the Olympics in Estonia?
The Olympic broadcasting rights in Estonia belong to Duo Media, who responded to ERR News and confirmed that the broadcasts will be available for free on Postimees.ee with the Olympics-specific site here. Broadcasts can also be seen on TV channels Kanal 2, Kanal 11 and Kanal 12. There will also certainly be venues in Estonia with broadcasts available on big screens.
Kanal 2's Olympics program manager Marko Kaljuveer said the channels will broadcast some 250 hours of competition, to go with the opening and closing ceremonies. Find the events on the TV guide here.
While most broadcasts are catered to the Estonian viewer, which will highlight the country's representatives at the event, but track and field, basketball and swimming will be broadcast in full. Volleyball and handball final matches will also be available on Estonian screens.
Editor: Helen Wright