Latvia is the second-smallest - by population - of the former Soviet republics (only Estonia has fewer people). It was one of three Baltic republics that declared its independence from the Soviet Union on August 21, 1991. Had declared itself in "transition to independence" a year earlier in a rebellious move against Soviet rule.
Along with Estonia and Lithuania, Latvia was a province of imperial Russia before World War I, an independent nation between World War I and II, and was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940. The last Russian troops withdrew in August 1994. About thirty percent of the Latvian population is Russian.
Latvia made its Olympic Winter Games debut in 1924. It also participated independently in 1928 and 1936 before the Soviet Union took political control of Latvia in 1940 and it no longer competed as a separate entity. Martins Rubenis won Latvia's first, and so far only, Winter Olympic medal with a bronze in the men's singles luge at the Torino Games.
Vancouver Outlook: Latvia's best medal hopes again lie on the sliding track. The country's top bobsled pilot, Janis Minins, has slowly improved since Torino. At the 2009 World Championships, Minins won a bronze medal in the four-man event. His sled also finished the 2008/09 season in second in the overall World Cup standings. Latvia also has slim medal hopes in men's skeleton and women's luge.