Kazakhstan honors its Olympic athletes; Turkmenistan fires its sports boss

Chicago Tribune with ref to Reuters
Aug 16, 2012

Members of the Kazakhstan delegation march into the stadium during the Closing Ceremony for the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium. (US Presswire photo)
Kazakhstan threw a lavish ceremony for its record-breaking Olympic athletes on Friday while Turkmenistan fired its sports minister in a reflection of the contrasting fortunes of the former Soviet Central Asian states at the London Games.

Kazakhstan's seven gold medal winners waved to crowds from open-topped limousines on a parade through the futuristic capital Astana before meeting President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled the oil-rich republic for more than two decades.

“Like every citizen of Kazakhstan, I am proud of the fact our anthem was played and our flag raised seven times in honour of our Olympians' victories,” Nazarbayev said.

Kazakhstan, Central Asia's largest economy, finished 12th in the medals table, its best result. Powered by a diet of horsemeat, weightlifter Ilya Ilyin set two world records on his way to retaining his Olympic title.

Ilyin was one of four Kazakh weightlifters to win gold. Cyclist Alexandre Vinokourov won the Olympic road race while boxer Serik Sapiyev took gold in the men's welterweight category and Olga Rypakova won the triple jump.

Neighboring Turkmenistan returned empty-handed from London and boxing referee Ishanguly Meretnyyazov was disqualified after failing to stop a men's bantamweight bout, although one fighter was knocked down six times in the final round.

On Friday, Turkmenistan's all-powerful president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, fired Sport and Tourism Minister Ferkhat Arjanov for “serious shortcomings” and said the ministry would be split into two separate entities.

“Insufficient attention is being devoted to preparing our sportsmen for international competition, a sign of the low level of organisation,” state media quoted Berdymukhamedov as saying.

Berdymukhamedov, often referred to as Arkadag, or the Patron, also promised to attract “world-famous coaches” to work in the reclusive, desert country north of Iran and Afghanistan.

Sports halls are adorned with pictures of the president performing martial arts, cycling, playing tennis and riding the thoroughbred Akhal Teke horses which are a national symbol.

Local media have also reported that Berdymukhamedov is a black belt in karate and taekwondo.

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