The Baltic Course

Ozolins - a patron on ice

By Vladimir Ivanov, Chas

Sandis Ozolins has spent the last ten years in United States. During this time he has managed to not only to play in hockey teams like San Jose, Colorado and Carolina, but has also participated in All-Star Games which is a great honour for any ice hockey player. Sandis invests his millions in building an elite golf club in Latvia. For the second year running, an ice hockey team he founded, named Vilki or the Wolves, plays in the supreme championship league of Latvia

Today, there are three Latvian ice hockey players who, judging by their income, can be perceived as millionaires. Sandis Ozolins, Arturs Irbe andKarlis Skrastins annually earn amounts written with seven digits. That's dollars.

While Ozolins and Skrastins already signed their latest contracts in the previous year, the famous Latvian goalkeeper of Carolina, Irbe, only just recently renewed his agreement with the club - an agreement by which he will receive eight million dollars for the next four years. That's quite impressive, to say the least, but this story is not about him.

Sandis Ozolins, born 29 years ago in Riga, is playing for the same team the third year running - Carolina. This player is more than just experienced and has already spent ten years in America, where he has managed not only to play in teams like San Jose, Colorado and Carolina, but also took part in All-Star Games, a great honour for any ice hockey player (participants of this game are chosen by voting results posted by fans). In addition, Ozolins' contract is of million-dollar-worth. So, what does this defender do with his money and what does he spendit on?

Speaking about Sandis in Latvia, just about everybody has heard about his line of business. In any case, every inhabitant of Riga, while strolling to the seaside of Vecaki or Vecmilgravis just north of the capital city, can observe construction that started last year in Mangali. Soon the first elite golf club, the only one of its kind in the Baltics, will be opened here.

"In America, golf is very popular. I regard myself an admirer of this game. Once it occurred to me that I could build something like this in Riga. No sooner said than done. Americans got involved in this project and things started to move. I know this game very well and I play it whenever possible. Moreover, when I was living in Denver, there was a golf course next to my house where professional golf tournaments were held. So, on many account, golf balls rolled up into my yard after wide hits by unlucky players," Sandis Ozolins says.

Besides golf, his heart belongs to ice hockey. Why else should he, to his own expense, found a hockey team ambitiously named Vilki (the Wolves), which plays in the supreme championship league of Latvia.

"An Ice hockey club, unlike golf, can not bring a big profit", adds Ozolins. "On the contrary, until now it has been far from profitable. Nevertheless, I trusted my friends - hockey players, whom I know well, and decided to support their idea of founding such a team. A lot of experienced boys play there. That is why I am sure that the championship of Latvia will only benefit from it.

Sandis Ozolins maintains the team completely to his own expense. Firstly, this refers to equipment - bandies, forms, shields, the works.

In Latvia, Sandis is also well known as one of the founders of a foundation for supporting young talents of Latvia - young ice hockey players who dream to some day play in the most powerful league in the world, just like him. The foundation, created by Ozolins and Irbe, has organized several campaigns with the purpose of helping young ice hockey players. For instance, he donated a skate-sharpening machine. Quite an expensive thing, but very useful for the boys of the 55th Riga Secondary School, where the Riga ice hockey club is based.

Judging by appearances, Sandis Ozolins is also respected by Latvian politicians. Otherwise, we wouldn't have seen his face on recent municipal election campaign posters. Ozolins has been living in America for quite some time now, but never forgets his homeland. That's why Latvia is the country in which he invests his fairly earned millions.



Marciulionis - commissioner of the court

By Vaidas Celonis, Lietuvos rytas

The famous Lithuanian NBA basketball player and one time European champion, Sarunas Marciulionis, could spend his days by now kicking back without a worry, yet he keeps going - and not on the court

After having spent eight years in the world's strongest basketball league in the world, the NBA, the rather tall Lithuanian has now earned enough for the rest of not only his own, but also his relatives' lives. Nevertheless, Marciulionis is not the kind of man to just sit back, sleep in bed, watch TV and do nothing. In fact, the former basketball player has just about no time to spare these days.

Plenty good things

He has a lot of ideas and projects on his mind, but there is one dream he has already fulfilled.

37-year-old Marciulionis formed his own basketball school, built a hotel named Sarunas, considered to be one of the best in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. He was one of the founders of the Lithuanian Basketball League (LKL). Together with Latvian basketball player, Valdis Valters, the two even formed the Northern European Basketball League (NEBL). Marciulionis has also put a lot of his own money in these projects, especially in his basketball school.

An idea from South Africa

But Marciulionis thinks not only about basketball. In the near future he will start to build a health and recreation complex called Forum in Vilnius. For this cause, in June last year the former sportsman purchased a plot of around 80 acres for more than 1.4 mln litas (USD 350,000). Sarunas hopes to get help from city authorities and believes that red tape will not slow down preliminary construction too much.

The plan is to build several bodybuilding centers (with all the respective equipment) in the central part of the complex, with a swimming pool to boot. The plan includes concert and dancing halls, a cafe (restaurant), a casino, premises for commercial activities and a conference hall all on his wish list. Marciulionis took the idea from South Africa, where a Cape Town health and recreation center gave him a thrilling impression.

"All things there are concordant and made in a very stylish way. Therefore we want to build a center with nothing like it in any other part of the world," Marciulionis says.

The center in Vilnius will cover around 10,000 square meters. The project's author is sure that the center, planned to be built in the next few years, will have more than enough clients.

"I think that the necessity to keep fit will grow. For example, women with four children at home have no possibilities to go somewhere, because they have no place to leave them, and we intend to keep that in mind when building the center," the basketball player told the Baltic Course.

According to Marciulionis, many companies abroad choose their office places near health centers.

All of these things are closely interrelated: in the morning, having done some physical activities, people will be more lively, and will do their job better. Nowadays, many people look for places, where they could have some fast food during their lunch breaks, whatever the cuisine. High quality and healthy food will be available," Marciulionis said of his ideas. Sarunas believes that his business will be a success.

Chip on the shoulder

Several years ago, one of his businesses, unfortunately, turned out to be a failure. In 1997, the famous sportsman decided to become an entrepreneur. He decided to start off in the potato chips business. Marciulionis was persuaded to become a manager for the Norwegian company Kim's Snacks, a subsidiary of Orkla. In a small Lithuanian town, Svianceneliai, the company started producing chips from local potatoes. Despite the low price of the chips, they were not very popular. The fact that Marciulionis advertised the product himself did not help either. The company went bankrupt.

Basketball today

Today, Sarunas spends much of his time and energy on reforming European basketball. NEBL is the first step in this direction. Not only Northern European clubs participate in the games taking place for the third consecutive year. The main thing is that the clubs are offered very good conditions - they do not have to pay for trips or hotels, the only thing for them is to play. In comparison: when taking part in R. Koraga and R. Saporta cups, organized by FIBA (the International Basketball Federation), teams suffer a big financial loss, with not even first prize winners getting a cent, only moral satisfaction.

Marciulionis is trying to make basketball a fascinating product. He has succeeded to find a rich sponsor - a Ukrainian pharmaceuticals company Vision. The company is not only the main sponsor of NEBL, but also helps the Kiev club.

Sarunas Marciulionis even succeeded to persuade the NBA legend, Magic Johnson, to advertise NEBL. He even agreed to play for Denmark's Magic Great Danes. 41-year-old Johnson played in several matches in the last season and the season before. It can be said for sure that along with the appearance of NEBL, basketball has become a more popular sport in Scandinavia. Nevertheless, Sarunas is not about to rest on his laurels.



Budilin - a fighter on the mat

By Sergey Abolimov, editor-in-chief at UP magazine

Aleksey Budilin, Estonia, judo, weight category under 81 kilos. Bronze medal winner at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, silver medallist at the world championships in Munich 2001, European champion in Paris 2001, bronze medallist at the European championships in Wroclaw 2000, silver medallist at the European championships in Bratislava 1999, Grand Prix winner at the Moscow tournament in 2001, winner of countless other judo tournaments and events

Aleksey, is it possible today in Estonia to earn one's living and feel well-off with professional sports?

Today, if an Estonian sportsman achieves international level, he can earn his living from sports. Some years ago, the government started to allocate a part of the money collected from gambling taxes to elite sportsmen - medallists of European and world championships and the Olympics. There are three types of scholarships: 5000, 3000 and 2000 Estonian kroons per month. Besides this, money is also allocated for training, since not every sportsman has a manager who is able to negotiate with sponsors. This helps a lot, because one can really count on the money. Medallists also receive premiums from Estonia, unfortunately only for results at the Olympic Games.

How many elite sportsmen are there in Estonia?

Approximately, ten people receiving five thousand kroons, a bit more who get three thousand crones, and a scholarship of two thousand kroons for young developing sportsmen of whom there are not so many - some time ago I too received this scholarship.

Is it possible for an Estonian professional to provide for his future since a sports career cannot last forever?

This also depends on the kind of sports here in Estonia. It is obvious that soccer, basketball and volleyball are probably not in the same class. Of course, we have Erki Nool who, by taking part in track and field athletics events, receives money prizes from the organizers of tournaments if he becomes a prize-winner. Amounts of prize money in judo are much more modest. For instance, the Moscow Grand Prix tournament under the patronage of Vladimir Putin where Indrek Pertelson and I participated had a much smaller prize fund than, for instance, a track and field athletics event of similar importance. However, that was the first tournament of any such level and for a debut it was held quite decently. Indrek came third, I was placed first and received 6,000 US dollars, a symbolic golden belt and the grand cup. This prize may not be too big, ten times smaller than in track and field athletics, but it is only recently, that wrestlers are now awarded with money prizes at tournaments.

Aleksey, what is the main reason for your sponsors helping you - is it one's own vanity, the wish to advertise a company or some kind of philanthropic gesture?

Fortunately, the times when we had to ask and convince someone that we are in hardship and that we are short of money for training is over. Sponsors are respectable people and organizations, so you don't just ask them for something, but offer a serious proposal. With our help they can advertise themselves - starting with placing their logos on our kimonos and vehicles and ending with our participation in advertising campaigns. My main sponsor now is ARCO Invest; besides also Saksa Auto and Tech Data.

Aleksey, how do you see your future after finishing your career as a sportsman, when sponsors are longer interested in you?

I have been thinking about my future for some time now. I could enroll in the Pedagogical University of Yaroslavl, which has a branch in Tallinn. My brother Dmitry, who is also an active judo fighter, and I are currently studying in the faculty of physical education specializing as coach-teachers.

Do you not try to invest your prize money into any companies?

Yes, I have invested all my money into a certain organization, but I could not call this a business, it is just a good way how not to spend too much, because money, unfortunately, has a tendency to vanish. Of course, I am gaining some interest on that money and if needed, I can always count on it.

Have you been offered to join foreign clubs, to take part in tournaments under their banners?

Indrek and I are already fighting for a German club called Abensberg. In no way does this interfere with our activities under the national team of Estonia - these are completely different things. But why do we do it? It's not just commercial interest. Firstly, it's a good team and we are glad to be in it and fight for it, and we could thus win the Bundesleague and the Eurocup. In this team, we all feel equal - there are many prize-winning sportsmen. Secondly, there are many sparring partners fighting on the highest level, on top of all that our expenses, including travel costs, are covered by the club.

Have there been invitations from other clubs?

After the Moscow Grand Prix tournament I was approached by a representative of club Neva - the president's club, headed by V. Putin - and he offered me to fight for the club next year. Of course, I had to refuse because of an agreement with the Germans, but, anyway, it was very pleasing, since it is one of the best clubs in Europe, where the leading sportsmen of the Russian national team all fight. It would be a great honor to fight for it.

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