Kyrgyzstan’s only medal winner thus far at the Rio Olympics, weightlifter Izzat Artykov, has been stripped of his bronze medal after testing positive for strychnine.
Artykov, who won bronze in the 69-kilogram category, became the first athlete to be excluded from these Olympics for doping after he tested positive for strychnine, a banned performance enhancer more commonly used to kill pesky rodents.
Strange though it may seem, strychnine has history in the Olympics. Way back in 1904, Thomas Hicks won the marathon after receiving a reviving mix of strychnine and egg whites washed down with a hefty measure of brandy after he started to falter on his way to the finish line. At the time, strychnine was in common use as a stimulant.
It’s not clear what reception Artykov will get on returning home, but he shouldn’t expect any sympathy from Kanat Amankulov, director of Kyrgyzstan’s State Agency for Youth, Physical Culture and Sport, who publicly upbraided wrestler Aisuluu Tynybekova after she narrowly missed out on a bronze medal.
In other Olympics news concerning Central Asia, Kazakhstani boxer Vasily Levit, who controversially lost out on a gold medal to Russia’s Evgeny Tischchenko, is to receive the reward for a gold medal finish from Astana — a cool $250,000.
Kazakhstan’s troubled weightlifters finally struck gold in Rio, with a little help from Azerbaijan.
Weightlifter Nijat Rahimov, who formerly competed for his native Azerbaijan, set a new world record as he won Kazakhstan’s second gold medal of these Olympics. Earlier in the day, Dmitriy Balandin won gold in the pool in the 200-meter breaststroke.
Rahimov’s win was not without controversy. He recently returned to the sport after serving a two-year ban after failing a doping test at Universiade, the World Student Games, in 2013. At the time, he was representing Azerbaijan, but he made the switch to Kazakhstan in 2015.
It turned out to be a good choice for the 77 kilogram-class weightlifter. In June, Azerbaijan was banned from competing in these Olympics because of repeated doping test failures.
Kazakhstan itself narrowly escaped a ban from competing in Rio. Ahead of the Games, Kazakhstan’s weightlifters were rocked by a series of doping scandals that saw four gold medal winners from London 2012, including double Olympic champion Ilya Ilyin, banned from competing in Rio. Unfazed by his recent brush with notoriety, Ilyin was reportedly headed to Rio on August 11 so that, as he put it, he could “support our team.”
Rahimov attributed his success to his rigorous training schedule, as he dodged questions about his doping past in the post-event press conference.
“When normal people were asleep, we were training. When the snow was deep, you know how it is in Kazakhstan, we went out for training at 11 or 12 [at night],” Rahimov said.
With tempers fraying over the vexed issue of land in Kazakhstan, some prime plots in Almaty are to be leased to a local consortium with the aim of reviving the fortunes of the city’s iconic Aport apple.
The Agriculture Department of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s commercial capital, has allotted 400,000 square meters of agricultural land on the outskirts of the city to a group of Kazakhstani investors trading as Apple World, reports state news agency Kazinform.
The group hopes to cultivate the Aport apple, which once grew abundantly in the foothills of the Trans-Ili Alatau mountain range, on a patch of land that was home to an orchard in the 1940s. The fortunes of the Aport have suffered from encroaching development as Almaty has expanded its borders into the surrounding countryside in recent decades, destroying swaths of both cultivated and wild orchards.
This move represents a homecoming as apples are believed to have originated from these forests in the Trans-Ili Alatau’s foothills. Almaty’s name is derived from the Kazakh for apple, alma, and it translates as “place of apples.” The Aport, which has become a symbol of the city, is a large, red species of apple that can grow up to one kilogram in weight.
Good news for hikers and bikers in Kazakhstan’s business hub as a local beverage company plans to build 25 kilometers of foot and cycle paths into the hills to mark its 25th anniversary.
Kazakhstan’s Raimbek Bottlers, which markets its drinks range under the Juicy, Palma and Ainalaiyn brands, is stumping the cash to build car-free access to the most popular out-of-town getaway spots. Once the path is completed, people will be able to get to the Medeu ice skating rink and Shymbulak ski resort from Kok-Tobe, a hilltop recreation area in Almaty, under their own steam.
“We want to give these paths to the city so that you don’t have to go by transport to Medeu or Shymbulak, but, for example, you can go on foot up to Kok-Tobe and then use the paths. Part of the path will be for trekking and the other for mountain bikes,” Raimbek Batalov, chairman of Raimbek Holdings, told Kapital.kz.
Kazakhstan has on paper been making bold efforts to nudge their automobile-addicted population onto their bicycles by building dedicated paths (albeit not always very good ones). And there is health to consider. Almaty is plagued by appallingly polluted air because over-reliance on cars, which also seems to be contributing to a burgeoning obesity crisis. Research by the Kazakh Academy of Nutrition has found that 30.6 percent of women and 36.8 percent of men in Kazakhstan are overweight.
So Batalov’s cycle and trekking path could not have come at a more apposite time.
City hall in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s commercial hub, is leading by example as it attempts to convert the city’s petrol-heads to eco-friendly bicycles.
Timur Bazarbaev, a besuited city hall official, took to two wheels for Almaty TV’s cameras on April 4, following Mayor Baurzhan Baybek’s call to officials in February to leave their cars at home and get on their bicycles to set an example for the good citizens of Almaty.
Bazarbaev recently started cycling to work after being inspired by his colleagues and getting fed up of sitting in Almaty’s notorious traffic jams.
“It’s a little bit hard,” he admitted to Almaty TV. “Our terrain is mountainous with many ups and downs, but overall I believe that it’s convenient, effective and useful.”
Cycling is increasing in popularity in Almaty, but the car still accounts for the majority of commutes.
In recent years, attempts have been made to unclog the city’s main thoroughfares by encouraging more journeys by bicycle. Since 2010 more than 30 kilometers of dedicated bicycle lanes have been laid in the city and Almaty has even introduced a bike share scheme similar to London’s Boris bikes.
In a bid to encourage more pedal power, on April 10 Almaty’s main streets will be turned over to cyclists with a mass cycle ride planned.
Kazakhstan’s high-profile world champion boxer, Gennady Golovkin, has been made an ambassador for Astana’s EXPO-2017 in a move to improve the image of the graft-plagued project.
Golovkin, boxing’s undisputed middleweight champion, was anointed as an official ambassador for the international exhibition, which will be held in Astana in 2017, by President Nursultan Nazarbayev during his visit to Washington on March 31.
Golovkin, known as GGG and rated one of the world’s best pound-for-pound boxers, is one of Kazakhstan’s best-known sports exports. He was on the party list for the ruling Nur Otan party in March’s election along with many other celebrities, but did not make the final cutinto parliament. His presence will boost the global image of EXPO-2017, which has been rocked by a huge corruption scandal.
A high-profile trial began in Astana on March 18 with Talgat Yermegiyayev, former chairman of the Astana EXPO-2017 company organizing the exhibition, accused along with 22 others of stealing in excess of 10 billion tenge (US$29 million at the current exchange rates) from the construction funds.
EXPO-2017 has also been landed with budget cuts — with Kazakhstan in the throes of economic crisis, some one-tenth of the originally expected total expenditure of $3 billion has been shaved off the budget.
In August, a new team headed by former Almaty Mayor Akhmetzhan Yesimov was parachuted in to knock the project back into shape. But his leadership has come in for criticism from insiders linked to the project.
After weeks of speculation, Andrey Arshavin, the former Arsenal and Russia star, has finally committed his future to Almaty’s FC Kairat, helping stoke Kazakhstan’s dreams of success on the European football stage.
Arshavin became the latest legionnaire to join Kazakhstan’s Premier League after signing a 1+1 deal with FC Kairat on March 18. The club’s website had pictures of Arshavin signing up to a one-year deal with the possibility of a further year’s extension.
Speculation about Arshavin’s future began in February when his contract with Russia’s Kuban Krasnador was terminated by mutual consent. He was spotted training with FC Kairat ahead of Kazakhstan’s Super Cup match with FC Astana, which opened the 2016 season on March 8. FC Kairat won that game on penalties.
Arshavin, 34, is set to make his debut in Kazakhstan’s top-tier on April 3 in the match against Uralsk’s FC Akzhayik. The former Russia captain started his career at Zenit St Petersburg in 1999. Following some eye-catching performances during 2008, a number of big European clubs appeared as suitors for the rising star before Arsenal finally landed him for around $24 million, a club record at the time, in 2009.
After a bright start, Arshavin’s career in England’s Premier League faltered and he was loaned back to Zenit in 2012. Having failed to secure a place in Zenit’s starting line-up, Arshavin was then loaned out to Kuban Krasnador in 2015.
Arshavin joins another seasoned legionnaire in Almaty: Ukrainian international Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, 36. Tymoshchuk formerly starred for Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St. Petersburg and Bayern Munich.
Kazakhstan’s flagship Astana sporting project could be on the rocks after its main sponsor announced significant funding cutbacks in response to the economic crisis engulfing the country.
"Of course, it will reduce the funding of the sports project, but that does not mean that the project will be closed. But there will be a very big reduction," Darkhan Kaletayev, managing director of Kazakhstan’s Samruk-Kazyna sovereign wealth fund, which bankrolls the project, told journalists in remarks reported by Kazinform on February 25.
The Astana Presidential Sports Club was set up in 2012 as the umbrella organization for clubs in Kazakhstan's capital. Included in its ranks are soccer's FC Astana, Barys hockey club and the Astana Pro Team cyclists. It also supports individuals such as world champion boxer Gennady Golovkin and Ilya Ilyin, an Olympic gold medal-winning weightlifter.
Samruk-Kazyna has seen serious budget cuts as government cash dries up as a result of falling oil prices crimping the budget. In a sign that it is in financial straits, the wealth fund is currently engaged in a fire sale of assets worth billions of dollars.
The government has also revealed the extent of the pain being inflicted on the economy, slashing growth forecasts to 0.5 percent in 2016, down from its previous forecast of 2.1 percent.
With the crisis biting hard in Kazakhstan, the nation’s most famous cyclist, Alexandre Vinokourov, has bucked the austerity trend by unveiling his latest two-wheeler — a glitzy gold-painted racing bike.
Vinokourov’s bling bike, unveiled ahead of this week’s 2016 Dubai Tour, features a gilded frame and is equipped with top-of-the range fittings. It’s emblazoned with his Vino logo and the Olympic emblem, in honor of his gold-medal winning performance in the London Games in 2012, Cycling News reported
Vinokourov, who retired from competitive racing in 2012 after winning his Olympic gold, now manages Pro Team Astana, which competes on the world tour. The team is part of Kazakhstan's flagship sports project, Astana Presidential Sports Club, which oversees various sports and is bankrolled by Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund.
The appearance of the bling bike comes at a time when Kazakhstan is facing swingeing, across-the-board cuts as the tenge topples alongside the oil price.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev has urged the nation to tighten its collective belt and eschew foie gras and luxury cars while the crisis rages on. He recently visited a bazaar in the capital, Astana, where he was shocked to see lemons selling for 150 tenge ($0.40). “We can survive without lemons,” he reassured the public.