The 10th World Lithuanian Sports Games took place in Kaunas last weekend. It attracted over 4000 participants - first, second or even third generation Lithuanians that came to Kaunas from 26 countries (Ireland, Uruguay, Russia, Estonia, Israel, USA - you name it!). For a lot of sportsmen representing all of the possible age groups it was the first visit to the homeland of their parents or grandparents - this, of course, made the event very special and warm.
The story of the World Lithuanian Sports Games as such does need some explanation. The first event, then called the Lithuanian National Olympics, was organised 89 years ago when Kaunas was the temporary capital of Lithuania. Participants competed in 17 sports as exotic as aviation and folk dancing. The sportsmen came from Latvia, the US, Great Britain and Brasil, representing the biggest Lithuanian immigrant communities at that time. One of the reasons the games were held was to invite the emigrants back to their homeland and celebrate the national identity with sports. The second games were supposed to take place in 4 years but that did not happen because Lithuania was occupied during WW2.
Sportsmen from the occupied Vilnius region arriving at the Kaunas railway station to participate in the games of 1938
In 1978, to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Independence of Lithuania and 40th anniversary of the National Olympics, the 1st World Lithuanian Sports Games took place in Toronto, Canada. More than 1000 Lithuanians from Australia, Argentina, USA, Canada, West Germany and Great Britain participated and showed the world Lithuania is still on the map, no matter what the official map was showing at that time. In 1983 the event took place in Chicago, USA, and coincided with the World Lithuanian Community congress and Song fest. The team from Lithuania itself managed to travel to the 3rd games in Adelaide, Australia, in 1988, when the country was still occupied by the Soviet Union.
Just a few months after signing the act of Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania it was officially decided the next games would be held in Kaunas. Despite the tragic events of Medininkai (more here) the event was a great success. Valdas Adamkus was the head of the US delegation in 1991 - the legendary Lithuanian was participating in the first games in 1938 and organized the Chicago event; he later became the President of Lithuania. Of course, His Excellency was a honorary guest of the opening of the 10th World Lithuanian Sports Games last weekend. Oh what a speech he delivered! It surely inspired the energy, fire and sportsmanship that were felt all over Kaunas during the weekend.
Valdas Adamkus as the head of US delegation in 1991
The participants fought for medals in 19 different sports, starting from basketball and field & track and ending with darts and bowling. The games took place in different locations all over Kaunas; the event was opened with a grand show in the historic Kaunas sports hall that at the time of opening in 1939 was the single arena in Europe designed specifically for basketball.
The 10th World Lithuanian Sports Games were part of the events dedicated to 2017, the official year of sports in Lithuania, and the events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the restoration of Lithuania's independence (2018).