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Allar Levandi

From the viewpoint of Estonians, at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary Alberta, Allar Levandi put Estonian winter sports on the world map, but more importantly, his win inspired Estonians to strive for excellence at international winter sports. He won the bronze medal in individual Nordic Combined, the sport combining cross-country skiing with ski-jumping. This was a very important moment in the evolution of Estonia's national sport. Cross-country skiing has been a common recreational sport in the country for decades; it is an activity to which most of the citizens can easily relate and consider their own, like hockey is for Canadians.

Estonian champion biathlon skier It was three years before Estonia would regain its independence, so Allar was competing on the Soviet team. Nonetheless, half a world away from Alberta, hundreds of thousands of Estonians stayed up past midnight to watch television coverage of his competition on February 28, the last day of the Games. Previously he had jumped along with two other Soviet athletes at Canada Olympic Park in the team event, with a group of approximately 25 Calgary Estonians among the cheering thousands of spectators. Then, when it was the Soviet team's turn to do their second jump, the takeoff seat was empty. The Nordic Combined Team event continued about 20 minutes later without any Soviet athletes.

The weather was uncooperative, thus the Nordic Combined Individual event was held later than originally scheduled. Both parts of the event took place on the same day, rather than a day apart as normal. Exhausting for the competitors but Allar Levandi did not mind. He came fourth in the jump segment and later, at Canmore, came third in the skiing event. The point totals result was bronze medal for Allar Levandi. The lights in Estonian homes stayed on, hundreds of thousands remained awake the rest of the night to celebrate.

Even though it was officially in the name of the Soviet Union, the Estonian Olympic Committee counts Allar Levandi's bronze as the first Winter Olympics skiing medal for Estonia and Estonians (Ants Antson won speed skating gold in the name of the Soviet Union in 1964 plus there were a total of 52 Summer Olympic medals won by Estonians prior to the Calgary Winter Games - variously representing Russia, independent Estonia or the Soviet Union, depending on the stage of Estonia's complex political history). Previously Estonians did not dare to hope for consistent greatness in ski based sports despite a few major stars. Since 1988, and especially after re-gaining independence in 1991, Estonians have been motivated to support their coaching and funding systems. Estonians now have faith in their cross-country ski sports athletes.

Since 1988 Estonian skiers and other ski-based athletes have won Olympic, World Championship, World Cup and European medals of all colours and hosted myriad World Cup events.

Allar Levandi was voted best male athlete of the year for 1988 in Estonia, and later, when the government of the new nation established an award system, he was accorded the Order of the Estonian Red Cross Class Three Decoration in 2001.

Born in 1965, Allar Levandi was 22 years old at the time of his Olympic bronze. He had previously won bronze in 1984 and gold in 1985 as a member of the Soviet Union team at the World Junior Nordic Combined championships. He also won bronze in the team event at the 1987 World Championship. He continued competing for another six years after winning his Olympic bronze medal, retiring after the Estonian team came fourth at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics in 1994. He coached in Norway and Estonia for many years. In December 2000, he brought two Estonian competitors to a Nordic Combined World Cup event at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. Allar Levandi married Russian figure skating star, Anna Kondrasova, whom he met at the Olympic athletes' closing party in Calgary in 1988. She has learned to speak fluent Estonian and is head coach at her own figure skating school in Tallinn. They have three sons born 2005, 1992 and 1989. Allar Levandi is currently a businessman owning a chain of sporting goods stores across Estonia.

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