With the dust now settling on the London Olympics, Kazakhstan has emerged as the undisputed Central Asia champion, finishing a laudable 12th in the overall medal table, up from 29th four years ago in Beijing. Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also made it to the winner’s podium.
But besides the considerable costs of training and putting athletes forward for Olympic glory, what have the wins cost Central Asia’s thin pocketbooks? Leaders across the region promised more than fame to athletes who could score a medal in London, including cash prizes, apartments and luxury cars.
In Kazakhstan’s case, the cash prizes to be doled out total over $2 million – $250,000 for each of seven golds, $150,000 for one silver, and $75,000 for each of five bronzes. Uzbekistan will fork out $100,000 to its gold winner, 120-kilogram freestyle wrestler Artur Taymazov, and $50,000 to each of three bronze winners. It’s not clear what Tajikistan was offering its bronze winner, however. President Emomali Rakhmon set the prize for gold at $63,000. But the Dushanbe mayor and the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party each promised female boxer Mavzuna Chorieva – who won a bronze – an apartment.
Other more unusual rewards for Kazakhstan's weightlifters included a fiancé for Maiya Maneza, a kilo of ice cream for Zulfiya Chinshanlo and a doctorate from the Kazakh Academy of Sport and Tourism for Ilya Ilin.
Kyrgyzstan, a country struggling to pay its pensioners a few dozen dollars per month, offered $200,000 for a gold, $150,000 for silver, and $100,000 for bronze. Weary pensioners may celebrate, then, because no Kyrgyz athlete got close to the winner’s podium.
Kyrgyz wrestling hope Aisuluu Tynybekova crashed out to Sweden's Henna Johansson and will now return to Bishkek to face assault charges related to an argument over ice cream. Turkmenistan's athletes will have to wait four more years for another attempt at a first-ever medal.
Team Kazakhstan's success was not without a whiff of controversy. Some Chinese observers claimed that gold-winning weightlifters Zulfiya Chinshanlo and Maiya Maneza were in fact Chinese nationals and merely on loan to Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan also waded into the fray, claiming that Kazakhstan was trying to “buy” two of its rising judo stars, Chingiz Mamedov and Yuri Krakovetsky.
With some of Kazakhstan's triumph being attributed to the miracle powers of kazy, can we expect to see horsemeat sausage featuring more prominently on the menus at the 2016 Olympic village in Rio de Janeiro? Kazkahstan's kazy exporters should take note now.