2011 Asian Winter Games


2011 Asian Winter Games
Alex Walters

Our apologies to Edge readers: Sorry you missed it, but we’re sure you’ll be able to read about it in the future. Because the 2011 Asian Winter Games, and host country Kazakhstan, most certainly have been written into the annals of sports history and the inspiring spirited catalogue of Asian achievements.

For the first time ever, the Asian Winter Games were held in Central Asia – and Kazakhstan made history as the first-ever Central Asian host. From this past January 30th to February 6th, some 1,500 athletes from 27 Asian countries poured into Kazakhstan and competed for a record 69 sets of medals.

The event, which like the Olympics is divided into summer and winter competitions, has become the second-largest sporting event in the world. A reported 2,000 journalists and 10,000 foreign visitors came to Kazakhstan to watch the competitions, all of which were broadcast live around the globe. In bottom-line terms, no international sporting event of comparable magnitude has ever been held in Central Asia.

Kazakhstan also made history as the first country to ever simultaneously host The Asian Games in two cities, Astana and Almaty. But Kazakhstan did not only make history as the host – Kazakh athletes were absolutely dominant. “Team Kazakhstan” topped all countries with a commanding 70 medals, including 32 gold medals, 21 silver medals and 17 bronze medals. Perennial powerhouse Japan came in second with 54 medals (13 gold, 24 silver, 17 bronze), while South Korea came in third with 38 total medals (13 gold, 12 silver and 13 bronze).

China, which hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing with spectacular success, came in fourth with 35 medals (11 gold, 10 silver, 14 bronze). The latter is remarkable when you compare the recruiting field of China’s 1.3 billion population to Kazakhstan’s population of 16 million.

Experts say that the massive, years-long planning and execution effort – and its ultimate success – is a testament to Kazakhstan’s growing prestige as a government, and society, capable of mastering the mammoth logistical challenges involved in organizing world-class affairs. Kazakhstan officials were delighted to learn that one of the expert spectators, perhaps the world-leading evaluator of government hosting prowess, was none other than Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee.

Rogge was on-hand to assess how well Kazakhstan had done in prepping to host the big event. He toured the Asian Winter Games facilities and Kazakhstan’s event-organizing skills to gauge whether the country deserves a Winter Olympics in the near future. The experience appeared to leave Rogge optimistic. “Kazakhstan has already proved that it’s capable of organizing events at the highest possible levels,” said Rogge. In his comments, he also referred to Kazakhstan’s successful hosting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit, the huge annual gathering of the 56 member-nation organization, which was held last December in Astana to rave reviews.

Kazakhstan aimed high and cut no corners in its preparation for hosting the Games. No less than $1.65 billion was spent on construction and preparation to host the event. But much of the investment was made in facilities that will have a lasting impact and strategic value to the country’s social and economic development. Making the country a respected and familiar venue for international sporting competitions of every kind fits well in the Kazakh government’s “multi-vector” diplomacy efforts, and is an important element of its broader international relations goals.

For the first time in the event’s history, the Asian Winter Games were held simultaneously in two cities.

That was because Kazakhstan’s leaders wanted Astana, the capital, to obtain some of the international recognition and economic benefits of the Games, rather than having Almaty, the country’s biggest city, reap all of the rewards. Because of the two-city venue “it [was] like organizing two Games,” said Serik Kulmurzayev, the head of the organizing committee for the event. In effect, he said, “We’ve had to have two organizing committees – one for each city.”

Prime Minister Karim Massimov has said that the effort expended in constructing the Games’ facilities has given Kazakhstan a “good opportunity to become a major (winter) sports power.” The payoff will be felt for years to come. Making the country a respected and familiar venue for international sporting competitions of every kind fits well in the Kazakh government’s “multi-vector” diplomacy efforts, and is an important element of its broader international relations goals.

After the buildup to the Asian Winter Games, Kazakhstan certainly has the infrastructure and venues assets in place. Now, Olympic experts are wondering if Kazakhstan will make a bid to host the Winter Olympics.

These include a new Sports Palace, the Biathlon Stadium, an impressive new Olympic-standard ski jump complex and the Athletes Village. The government of Kazakhstan also modernized Almaty’s Central Stadium, the Baluan Sholak Sports Palace and the Shimbulak Ski Resort and Medeo Skating Rink, which are both located in the Tien Shan mountains, 30 minutes’ drive outside the nation’s largest city, Almaty.

Several of the indoor-event facilities have the futuristic design look that Astana has become internationally famous for. An example is a combination bicycling stadium and speed-skating rink in Astana shaped like a cycling helmet – a reminder that Ka-zakhstan’s Team Astana is one of the world’s top cycling squads. Most of the Games’ indoor events – such as hockey, figure skating and speed skating – were held in Astana, a city that is on the northern flatlands, or steppe. The outdoor events, including skiing, ski jumping and biathlon, were held in the hills and mountains around Almaty.

Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Sports and Tourism believes that the new and refurbished Almaty facilities will be able to attract winter sports enthusiasts year after year. Plans are for the ski-jump complex to eventually have five jumps. Adults will be able to use the 95-metre and 125-metre slopes that were built for the Asian Games. Children will have 20-metre, 40-metre and 60-metre slopes. The Games organizers nearly doubled the length of the Shymbulak ski-run network from 6 kilometers (about 3.6 miles) to nearly 12 kilometers (7.2 miles). In addition, they made the width of the runs much wider in many places.

Woods said he found "the standard of organization".

Ian Woods, a former British biathlon (skiing and rifle shooting) competitor at two Winter Olympic Games, served as a sports commentator at the Asian Games and described it as a great adventure.

Alright to Be Wrong

“China and South Korea are the event’s clear favourites and our main rivals,” Dosmukhambetov said. “But I believe that we are capable of winning 25 medals. I hope it will be enough to take the third place in the Games’ medal table.” We’re sure Dosmukhambetov was very happy to be very wrong in his prognostication, as the final results eclipsed even the most optimistic goals that the Kazakhs had set for themselves. When all was said and done, “Team Kazakhstan” topped all countries with a commanding 70 medals, including 32 gold medals, 21 silver medals and 17 bronze medals.

Perennial powerhouse Japan came in second with 54 medals (13 gold, 24 silver, 17 bronze), while South Korea came in third with 38 total medals (13 gold, 12 silver and 13 bronze).

China, which hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing with spectacular success, came in fourth with 35 medals (11 gold, 10 silver, 14 bronze). The latter is remarkable when you compare the recruiting field of China’s 1.3 billion population to Kazakhstan’s population of 16 million.

The great Kazakhstan cross country skier Alexei Poltoranin won three gold medals – in the 1.6 kilometers, the command ski sprint and the 30 kilometres event. The nation’s top orienteers dominated their events even more thoroughly. Michael Sorokin and Olga Novikova won four gold medals each, in the male and female orienteering relay, orienteering sprint, orienteering average-distance and orienteering long-distance events.

Kazakhstan’s male and female orienteering teams dominated their events, winning gold medals in both. Skiers Eleena Kolomina and Nikolai Chebotko also won two gold medals each in team events. Kazakh fans were also able to rejoice that their highly rated ice hockey team captured the gold on its home turf and its rising figure skating star Denis Ten captured gold In a very tough competition. 39

The Kazakhand participation to be as high as the Commonwealth Games, which involve countries in the former British Empire.

“I really enjoyed doing the work and it was a fantastic experience,” he told the North West Evening Mail newspaper in Britain. “I was very surprised by how good the infrastructure was. They had clearly spent a lot of money to create a positive impression… and the people in Kazakhstan are wonderful.”

It must be noted that in making such an indelible impression for their ability to put on a show, the government of Kazakhstan also flashed a sharp nose for multicultural promotion. The Kazakh state broadcaster even hired Michael “Eddie The Eagle” Edwards, the U.K.’s first-ever Olympic ski-jumper, to provide color commentary for their broadcasts of the games. Edwards became an everyman’s hero during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, and achieved cultural icon status thereafter.

Edwards definitely delivered what he was paid to do: “Even if I’d jumped in Kazakhstan, last week, I would have been able to beat one or two of the Chinese guys,” Edwards quipped. If things go as the Kazakh government has planned, the may be calling on him again.