Central Asia's Mixed Success at London Olympics

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

The 2012 Summer Olympics offered mixed successes for the five post-Soviet Central Asian states and Afghanistan. While the Games proved nothing short of triumph for team Kazakhstan, the success of athletes from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan was more moderate. And for Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan whose athletes left London empty-handed, the London Olympics were largely a disappointment.


Team Afghanistan which grew from a four-person squad at 2008 Olympics to include six athletes at the 2012 Games matched the success it achieved in Beijing four years ago. After winning Afghanistan's first ever Olympic medal in 2008, fighter Rohullah Nikpai bagged another bronze medal in men's Taekwondo in London. Now the war-torn country that has participated in 13 Summer Games has  two Olympic medals, both claimed by Nikpai.

The fighter's 2012 success was met with an explosion of excitement in social media, with some netizens suggesting that Nikpai's bronze meant more than gold for Afghanistan. Another Afghan Taekwondo fighter, Nesar Ahmad Bahawi, finished the games one step away from a bronze medal.

Internet-based Daily Outlook Afghanistan wrote about the country's success at 2012 Olympics:

Afghan athletes are real heroes of the country. Their achievements in different international sporting events have not only brought some moments of joy and pride, but also a great sense of unity among Afghans regardless of their ethnic background…

Their achievements have not only been a moral boast to the confidence and pride of our terrorism-hit people, but also a paradigm for youth to play their role in bringing honor to the country. Our athletes deserve exceptional encouragement that despite lack of facilities, they make history…


For Kazakhstan, the London Olympics have been an unprecedented success. The country's 115 athletes won 13 medals, including seven golds. Due to this dazzling success, Kazakhstan finished 12th in the overall medal table, a huge progress compared to the 2008 Games when the country was 29th. Kazakh athletes took four of the seven golds in weightlifting. Female weightlifters Zulfiya Chinshanlo, Maiya Maneza, and Svetlana Podobedova won gold in different weight divisions, with Ilya Ilyin matching their achievement in men's 94-kg division. The remaining golds were claimed by Olga Rypakova (women's triple jump), Serik Sapiyev (men's under-69-kg boxing), and Alexandr Vinokurov (men's road face).

Team Kazakhstan's success was accompanied by some controversy about its Chinese-born female weightlifters, whose success was also claimed by Beijing. However, as one blogger suggested, the national origin of the athletes in questions “doesn't change what they have accomplished. [They] were not champions in China. Kazakhstan apparently found them, trained them, and made them champions.”

On Kazakh blogging platform Yvision.kz, Bnews wrote [ru]:

[П]рошедшая Олимпиада в Лондоне стала триумфом для нашей страны, многие заговорили и узнали о нас, а в зале тяжелой атлетике уже наверное давным-давно знают наш гимн наизусть.

Спасибо нашим спортсменам и всем-всем за сказку, длиною в 2 недели и за их тяжелый труд. Желаем успехов и превосходных достижении, через 4 года в Рио-де-Жанейро результат будет еще лучше!

The London Olympics became a triumph for our country, with many people speaking about us and having learnt about [Kazakhstan]; while in the weightlifting gyms, people have long known our national anthem by heart.

Thanks to our athletes and everyone else for the fairy-tale that lasted for two weeks, and for their hard work. We wish them success and remarkable achievements. In four years, at [2016 Rio de Janeiro Games], we are going to have even better results!


The London Olympics were one big disappointment for Kyrgyzstan which had sent 14 athletes to the Games. Four years ago, in Beijing, the Kyrgyz took one silver and one bronze in men's Greco-Roman wrestling. Travelling to London this year, Kyrgyz wrestlers also hoped to bring home at least two medals. Among the country's main medal hopefuls in London was Aisuluu Tynybekova, a 19-year-old female wrestler, who faced a criminal charge of “hooliganism” at home. Tynybekova and all the male athletes from team Kyrgyzstan left the British capital empty-handed.

The failure of Kyrgyz athletes to win medals has cost them a lot of criticism at home. After Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz service asked readers of its website to say what they think of the country's performance at the 2012 Olympics, Aybek from Bishkek wrote [ru]:

…Я согласен с тем, что результаты на Олимпиаде отражают ситуацию в стране в целом, то есть все абсолютно плачевно…. Нам нечем и некем гордиться… Виноваты все – и государство и каждый из нас… Вместо того, чтобы покупать себе джипы и строить особняки, лучше бы спортсменам помогли.

…I agree that the results of the Olympics reflect the situations in the country in general, that is, absolutely everything in the country is sorrowful… We have nothing and nobody to be proud of… Everyone is to blame – both the state and each of us… Instead of buying expensive off-road cars and building mansions, we'd better help our athletes.

But another Bishkek resident, Bolot Temirov, was less pessimistic, suggesting [ru] that the 2012 Olympic failure might actually benefit the country in a longer term:

Самое главное сделать выводы. Иногда нужны поражения, чтобы потом были победы…

The most important thing [now] is to draw conclusions. Sometimes you need to lose in order to have victories in future…


Just like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan won two medals – one bronze and one silver – at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Just like Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan was hoping to at least match its 2008 success in London. Unlike Kyrgyzstan, however, Tajikistan bagged an Olympic medal at this year's Games. The country's only medal, a bronze, was won by 19-year-old female boxer, Mavzuna Chorieva. By achieving this success, the fighter is said to have broken major social stereotypes related to women's role in Tajikistan. She is also being promoted as a new “national symbol” by some netizens. The rest of the 16 athletes representing Tajikistan in London, including the 2008 Olympic heroes Rasul Boqiev and Yusup Abdusalomov, failed to impress this year.

Yet, Tajikistanis appear to be happy about the single medal taken by the female boxer. As journalist Salim Aioubzod explained [tj] on Facebook:

Як медали биринҷии мо баробари 10 нишони тилои баӣзе кишварҳост.

Our single bronze medal equals ten golds taken by some countries.


Turkmenistan which hasn't yet won a single Olympic medal brought 10 athletes to London. None of them was expected to contend for a medal. And none of them did. Yet, according to the government news service, Turkmenistan's athletes “performed respectably” [ru] at the Games, breaking several personal and nationals records.

The only thing Turkmenistan is likely to be remembered about after the London Olympics is the incident with a Turkmen boxing referee, Ishanguly Meretnyyazov, who was expelled by the International Boxing Association for improper officiating at the Games.


Prior to London, Uzbekistan took 17 Summer Olympic medals, including four golds. At Beijing Games four years ago, Uzbek athletes won six medals: one gold (in men's freestyle wrestling), two silvers (in men's judo and wrestling), and three bronzes (in men's and women's gymnastics, and in men's judo).

Uzbekistan had a more moderate success this year in London where its 53-athlete-strong team claimed four medals. Artur Taymazov, the country's famous freestyle wrestler, won his third straight Olympic wrestling gold in men's 120-kg category. Three bronzes were won by Abbos Atoev (men's 75-kg boxing), Rishod Sobirov (men's under-60-kg judo), and Soslan Tigiev (men's 74-kg freestyle wrestling).

Discussing the results of the London Olympics for Uzbekistan on Russia's most popular online social network VKontakte, one user wrote [tj]:

Олимпиада Лондон-2012 закончилась.

Узбекистан 47 место! Кто-то доволен результатами, кто-то нет! Но всё, же мы поздравляем всех тех, кто принёс нашей стране медали (не важно какие) главное что они есть…

The London 2012 Olympics is over.

Uzbekistan is 47th [in the overall medal count]! Some people are happy about the result, some are not! Still, we extend our congratulations to those who won medals for our country (whatever medals these are). The most important thing is that we have [these medals]…

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.


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