As the pre-Games tranquillity returns to
host country Turkmenistan, observers can look back at what turned out to be the
most memorable edition of the pan-Asian multi-sport event.
Many elements stood out during the nearly
two weeks of competition, but a new world record and several outstanding
performances underlined the quality of the Games.
And the noteworthy elements extended far beyond the field of play and into the way this event influenced – and will continue to do so – sports and culture in the wider Central Asian region.
For a corner of the world that had been, in
the most respectful way possible, flyover country in terms of major sport
competitions, hosting an event of this scale set a new precedent.
In this regard, Turkmenistan acquitted itself well, bringing to the table the world-class Ashgabat Olympic Complex, a sports city that encapsulated the whole world of the Games, from the competition venues to the athletes’ village and ancillary facilities.
With the entirety of its structures and
infrastructure built specifically for the event, the organisers pulled out an
impressive feat to deliver 15 distinct venues, a new monorail system and
accommodation for over 6,000 athletes, coaches and officials.
and DanceSport Arena
and Ju Jitsu Arena
Belt Wrestling, Traditional Wrestling
Any investment of this scale, clearly, is meant to deliver its benefit over a period of more than two weeks, and this is the case with the Ashgabat Olympic Complex. Its permanent facilities will represent the nucleus around which one of the leading sport centres in the whole region will develop, featuring institutes of education and sports science as well – helping develop the future generations of Turkmen sportspersons and creating a healthier, more active population.
The Games, of course, will not be remembered just for Ashgabat’s marble-clad backdrop and state-of-the-art facilities. In an unprecedented move, the continental competition was opened up to 19 nations from Oceania, as well as a refugee team boosting the total number of delegations to 65, a new record for the AIMAG.
A total of more than 4,500 athletes took
part in the enlarged competition, making this the biggest contingent ever to
take part in the second ever edition of the unified Games, with the Asian
Indoors, launched in 2005 and now on their fifth edition, once again firmly
associated with the Martial Arts continental showpiece.
Asian countries provide some of the best
performers in many of the sports included in the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts
Games, and this was the case in Ashgabat as well, with memorable moments in
both Olympic disciplines and during martial bouts.
No result was more astonishing, however, than that of Morad Sohrab in the men’s 94kg weightlifting. The Iranian, who won a gold medal at the last Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, broke his category’s 18-year-old world record, lifting a total of 413kg to add an Ashgabat gold to his prestigious collection.
“This is the result of many years of work and I am very happy and delighted for my efforts,” said Moradi, who lifted 185kg in the snatch and 228kg in the clean and jerk. “One of my goals as an athlete was to win an Olympic championship. This is important. But this one is also important because I really wanted to do it. I am happy to do this.”
The home country found plenty to celebrate too. The Turkmenistan team made the most of their home advantage and closed the Games on top of the medal table in what was easily the most successful haul in the country’s history. Turkmen athletes conquered 89 gold medals which, in addition to 70 silver and 86 bronze medals, gave the team a total of 245 podiums – more than twice as many as the closest rival, China, with 95.
The performance was cause for celebration in the country, building the foundations to become a continental sporting powerhouse – one of the stated objectives ahead the Games. From team sports to individual disciplines, the local heroes drew inspiration from the passion of the packed houses and delivered some inspired performances.
A standout athlete among the home
competitors was wrestler Seydi Batyrov. The 24-year-old must have been glad not
to have a long way to go back home after the Games, as his luggage was ballasted
with a record six gold medals.
“I feel great. Coming to the mixed zone from the medal ceremony my phone did not stop ringing. My relatives wanted to say congratulations. It is a tremendous feeling. Now I have to practice more in order to be better,” said Batyrov, displaying humility in success and the work-ethic that allowed him to reach these lofty heights. “To win the most medals of any athlete at the Games is worthy for both mine and my coach’s labour.”
The sports programme at this fifth edition of the Games gave a possible glimpse into the Olympics future
The sports programme at this fifth edition
of the Games also gave a possible glimpse into the Olympics future. The wildly
popular, especially in Asia, and growing discipline of eSports was included in
the schedule as a demonstration sport. The young followers of the most talented
representatives of the discipline represent a big market and it is set to make
its Asian Games medal debut in 2022, prior to a possible inclusion at Paris
Ashgabat 2017, however, were not just great
within the confines of the competition arenas. They were also an incredible
opportunity to establish and nurture structures of society that would contribute
to the growth of a nation.
Over 8,000 volunteers, known as First
Stars, helped make the games a success as part of the largest ever volunteer
drive ever organised in the country. Selected out of more than 20,000
applicants, the volunteers received 196,843 hours of training through 496
sessions. Each First Star received 24.6 hours of training delivered by
international professionals. More than 65,000 shifts were completed by the
close of the Games.
Most of them hailed from Turkmenistan University – their young age ensuring their experience of contributing to the construction of the common good will remain with them for a long time, even when the memory of the Games has faded. This will be one of the many elements of the legacy of the Games.
Turkmenistan welcomed the world, and the
world answered. More than 750,000 seats were filled for the sessions, with locals
mixing with visitors from all over Asia and farther afield. A true celebration
of sport and international friendship was consumed over the two weeks of
The country has never had the chance the
showcase itself in such a way with coverage of the Games reaching 57
territories and hundreds of millions of homes across the world.
From Wepaly the mascot, a traditional Turkmen alabai dog in local dress; to the Akhal-Teke horse, a national favourite used in the logo of the Games and in the architecture of the Olympic Stadium; and the medals, rich of symbolism; the Games have been a collection of powerful elements that recall Turkmenistan’s rich heritage, history and customs.
The Games were a success. As the President
of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, brought the closing ceremony to an
end, the President of the Olympic Committee of Asia, HE Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad
Al Sabah, praised the vision and day-to-day involvement of Mr Berdimuhamedov and
the Executive Committee.
Sheikh Ahmad described the venues as “world-class”, and said he was convinced that Ashgabat had the capability to host more major international events – before branding the Ashgabat 2017 games “the best ever Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games”.
As the fireworks fizzle away into the sky
and Ashgabat returns to its normal self, the two weeks in which the spotlight
of the world was on the capital city of Turkmenistan will live in the memories
of a country, and in those of its countless guests. Ashgabat did Asia proud.
The question the sporting world is asking
now is: what next for this ambitious Central Asian country?