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More girls take up freestyle wrestling in Kyrgyzstan
Coaches say prospects for international success are good
By Maksat Osmonaliyev
BISHKEK – With more girls competing in freestyle wrestling, Kyrgyzstan is hoping to gain some international athletic prowess.
While only a few dozen Kyrgyz girls were involved in the sport at the end of the 1990s, their numbers have now grown to more than 1,000 said Nurbek Izatbekov, who competed internationally and now coaches Kyrgyzstan’s female freestyle wrestling team.
“Back in 1998, when women's freestyle wrestling became official, the team consisted of athletes who did other kinds of wrestling, like judo and sambo,” Izatbekov said. “But recently women's wrestling has become popular worldwide and in our country as well. The competition is the same as for men; for example, in the last world championship, each men’s weight category consisted of approximately 40-50 athletes, and this number was the same for women.”
About 20 female athletes, who comprise the national team, are preparing to vie for slots at the London Olympics in 2012. And Izatbekov said he thinks Kyrgyzstan will make a statement internationally.
The Olympics will have only four weight categories – 48, 55, 63 and 72kg. Three international qualifying tournaments enable wrestlers to reach the Olympics. They are scheduled for Kazakhstan (Astana), China and Finland in March, April and May, respectively. Athletes who win first or second place will qualify for the Olympics.
Some already have fared well in competition
Some of the more familiar names include Yana Panova and Mikhriniso Nurmatova.
“But a new generation of female athletes has emerged,” Izatbekov said. “These girls came here voluntarily when they were 13-15, and we have great expectations for them.”
Already, he said, Kyrgyzstan is strong in the region. “If we take the Central Asian countries, we are inferior only to Kazakhstan, which has many foreigners on its teams,” he said. “However, the athletes of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan do not pose a threat to us yet.”
Not just the number of athletes has been increasing, but also their quality, said Asein Torogeldiyev, the president of the Women's Wrestling Federation.
“The national championships a few days ago showed that we are at a good level,” Torogeldiyev said. “Our hopes lie in the four girls who will fight for the Kyrgyz Republic in international competitions.”
Athletes from other sports turn to wrestling
Some women have moved from other sports to freestyle wrestling, so they come with an athletic background.
Aisulu Tyrynbekova, from Naryn Oblast, for example, said she played basketball before, but when she accidentally saw women’s wrestling on TV, she “had the burning desire to take up wrestling and nothing else.”
“But our district did not have a women's wrestling club, so I could take up this sport professionally only when I came to Bishkek,” she recalled. “This is my second year wrestling. I became a ‘Master of Sport’ in Kyrgyzstan and national champion. In the future, I dream of winning international competitions and maybe even qualifying for the Olympics.”
In the past two years, women's freestyle wrestling clubs have started to open in almost every oblast, and in Chui Oblast girls are training in every district, Izatbekov said. The public attitude toward strong, skilled girls has always been respectful, he said.
Benefits of wrestling
Wrestling is useful in everyday life, she said.
“I was once insulted by a guy, and he pushed me hard in the back,” she recalled. “I warned him to keep his hands to himself. There were other guys nearby, and when they heard me say this, they all laughed, and the guy who pushed me grabbed me by my clothes and began to choke me. … I threw him over my shoulder.”
“After this incident, no one has as much as touched me,” she recalled with a laugh.
Wrestling also builds character and other strong traits.
“Wrestling has given me self-confidence,” said Nargul Zharkynbaeva, an Osh wrestler with several years’ experience.
As the Kyrgyz women prepare for the Olympic qualifiers, Izatbekov said he is cautiously optimistic.
“I won’t be too disappointed if we do not achieve our goals for 2012 – I mean qualifying for the Olympics,” he said. “According to my plans, my athletes will become stronger and improve their skills, and will prove themselves at the Asian Games in 2014. Then we will be able to compete with China and Japan. The long road to victory for our girls starts today.”