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By Maksat Osmonaliyev
BISHKEK – Kyrgyz ski orienteers have set their sights on creating one of the three best teams in Asia.
The country is seeing growing interest in the complex sport, said Ilshat Dautov, president of the Sports Orienteering Federation. In the 1970s and 1980s, Kyrgyzstan consistently had one of the five best teams among the 15 Soviet republics, he said.
“Then came the ’90s, and many sports, including skiing, ceased to exist,” he said. “In 2008, we received an invitation from Russia to participate in the country’s championship. … You can say that at that moment, after a long dormancy, we finally began to revive the sport. … Therefore, many people do not know that the sport of ski orienteering was revived and now exists here.”
Ski orienteering’s development in Kyrgyzstan accelerated late in 2010 because of prodding from Kazakhstan, which was about to host the 2011 Asian Winter Games and wanted Kyrgyzstan to participate. Kyrgyzstan sent cross-country skiers because it had no other ski teams at the time.
“At the beginning of January 2011, we went to three one-week instruction and training sessions in Almaty,” Dautov said. “Then we took part in the Asian Winter Games.”
The team lacked experience and didn’t place well, he said, but the Asian Games encouraged them.
“If we develop ski orienteering, in two or three years we shall be among the three best in Asia,” he predicted.
Ski orienteering, unlike other forms of competitive skiing, lacks visual appeal. An orienteer has to use his or her brain as well as muscles. The orienteer not only has to move fast but also adhere to a route drawn on a map. Losing sight of the checkpoints can cost valuable time.
“Ski orienteering is the most difficult of all the forms of orienteering,” said Igor Krutiyenko, the Kyrgyz head coach for sports orienteering. “It requires good physical and psychological preparation.”
The country has 20-30 who are among the elite in the sport; another 100 or so are active at a lower level.
About 50 Kyrgyz, mainly children, take up the sport each year, Krutiyenko said, even though Kyrgyzstan lacks specialised skis and other equipment.
Krutiyenko has high hopes for 20-year-old Kunduz Abdykadyrova, who has been a competitive skier for three years. This year she switched to orienteering.
“This is more difficult,” she said. “In this sport, you have to keep comparing your route with the map all the time. (The difficulty) is what attracted me to ski orienteering.”
Children ages 8-11 are now training. Elizabeth Bozhokoyeva, 9, of Vorontsovka village has been skiing competitively for two years and already has competed in the local and national championships.
She now prefers ski orienteering. In ordinary racing, she loses to stronger contestants, but in orienteering, she avoids mental errors and wins.
“This game is something like chess, and I am class champion at chess,” she said. “Here too, you have to think how and where you are going. I’m not sure if I shall be a champion in the future, but I don’t want to give up the sport.”
The team trained hard for the journey to Kazakhstan to take part in the third round of the 2012 World Cup, scheduled for February 29-March 4. It also is billed as the first Asian Ski Orienteering Championship, according to the International Orienteering Federation website.
“Four skiers from our country will be going to the championship,” Krutiyenko said. “In the World Cup, unfortunately, we are not likely to be in the first 10, because Russians and skiers from the European countries, including Scandinavia, where skiing is well developed and popular, will be taking part in it. But at the Asian championship, we are determined to win at least one bronze medal.”