The London Olympics have offered mixed successes for Central Asia in their first week.
Kazakhstan got off to a great start, meeting its target of three gold medals in the first four days of competition. Uzbekistan has picked up a bronze and also the dubious distinction of seeing a gymnast kicked out for failing a drug test. Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have yet to trouble the winner's podium.
Kazakhstan's weightlifting sensations Zulfiya Chinshanlo and Maiya Maneza struck gold on July 29 and July 31, after cyclist Alexander Vinokourov sped to victory on July 28.
The victories were not without controversy, however. Chinshanlo and Maneza's roots were called into question, as some years previously they had been part of China's weightlifting set-up. A Kazakh official refuted charges the athletes had no right to represent Kazakhstan.
“We led them to this victory for a whole Olympic cycle, and before that they were already members of our national team,” Aleksey Kryuchkov, acting head of the sporting body in charge of Kazakhstan's national teams, told KTK television.
It's been a busy games for Kryuchkov, who also had a kit malfunction to deal with. Some weightlifters from Kazakhstan were shown in competition wearing uniforms reading “Kzakhstan.” An investigation revealed five or six rogue, misspelled T-shirts.
Vinokourov's victory also caused an outbreak of sour grapes in the British press, with the Daily Mail calling him a “nobody from Kazakhstan” and “an unpopular former blood doping cheat” after he beat home favorite Mark Cavendish, who finished 29th in the race.
Uzbekistan's Rishod Sobirov picked up a bronze in Judo's 60-kilogram division on July 28, but his win was overshadowed by artistic gymnast Luiza Galiulina’s disqualification for doping. She tested positive for diuretic furosemide. Galiulina could not explain to a disciplinary committee how the banned substance found its way into her body.
Uzbekistan still has a chance to redeem itself in wrestling and boxing, disciplines where it has a good record of success in previous games.
Kyrgyzstan – which, like Tajikistan, hopes for medals in judo and wrestling – got some negative press as one of its stars, 19-year-old Aisuluu Tynybekova, faces assault charges at home stemming from an argument over either an insult or an ice cream cone.
As for Turkmenistan, it's not clear where its strengths lie.
Perhaps Kazakhstan can attribute its success to its secret weapon -- kazy (dried horsemeat sausage). It certainly seems to have worked for Chinshanlo and Maneza. Kazakhstan will be hoping for more weightlifting wins as world champions Ilya Ilin and Svetlana Podobedova compete over the weekend – let's hope there's enough kazy left to power them to victory.