Turkmenistan’s Cue Sports take flight at Ashgabat 2017
Athletes across the world are divided in opinion about what is the epitome of one’s sport? Is it winning a gold medal at the Olympics or winning a World Championship, or even at times, defeating your own compatriot to win a major tournament?
However, at the ongoing 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, a unique match took place between two of Turkmenistan’s finest cueists.
Ibabekir Bekdurdyyew successfully won gold in the Russian Pyramid Freestyle singles by defeating his own coach! Yes, you read that correctly -- Ibabekir claimed the win by defeating his own mentor Yernar Chimbayev at the Billiards Sports Arena, earlier this week.
An ecstatic yet confused Ibabekir told Sportskeeda, “I don’t know what to do actually. It feels amazing to win gold in front of my home crowd, but it also feels a bit weird. We practice together almost 10 hours a day together, so it’s a bit difficult to play against him as he knows everything about us."
“However, it also goes the other way because we know everything about him. We are a group of five players that practice under him, so we are like one family. Regardless of who wins, the gold and silver have come to Turkmenistan and that’s what matters most,” he added.
Rigorous fitness and training regime
Describing their training regime in detail, Yernar said, “Our day begins at 6 am, where we go for a run and do a bit in the gym. In a sport like ours, there is a perception that we don’t need physical fitness. In fact, we need physical fitness more than anyone else, as we spend 10 hours on the table."
"The rest of the day we play, according to our plans, which change every week. If there is a major tournament coming up, then the time goes up to 12 hours. I don’t play as much with them as I have to observe what they do. However, I do play sometimes against them and most of the time I come out on top. We also have video analysis sessions every day to have a look at how we are progressing,” the coach stated.
Yernar has been a playing the sport professionally since 1999 and claims Turkmenistan’s growth has been nothing short of remarkable. He added, “Do you really think I will be unhappy that I lost to my student? The best thing that can happen to anyone is losing to their own student. I also had a bad day, but if my student is winning then it means I’m doing my job correctly."
"Right now, among the five of us, anyone could’ve taken the top two. Begenc Jumaglyjow has a very aggressive style and he’s still young -- he can actually be better than all of us here. We also have Serdar, who is one of the most experienced Russian Pyramid players in the country.”
Rapid growth of the sport in Turkmenistan
Five Turkmen took part in the Russian Pyramid Singles and registered top nine finishes, highlighting the country’s growth of the sport. The Turkmenistan Billiards and Snooker Federation (TBSF) was set up only in 2015, but has rapidly created a professional ecosystem.
Current TBSF President Batyr Asyrow explained the current scenario and said, “Cue sports in Turkmenistan have always been popular but were never kept under one federation. We always had individual clubs and parlours but never did we have any idea of scale."
"Now all the top players are paid salaries and given a chance to compete for the national team. If you’re good enough, you will get a chance to represent Turkmenistan. The ongoing Asian Indoor Games are a testament to our skill ceiling and we can only move forward from here.”
When Yernar started playing the sport, there were only two snooker parlours in Ashgabat. Now there as many as 25.
For some, it’s become a family tradition. Sohrat Metidiyew has been representing Turkmenistan for the past decade and it’s not solely restricted to him. His three sons, Meretgeldi, Resul and Babamurat all represent Turkmenistan across various age categories already.
He said, “We all train together, and it is my goal to see them represent Turkmenistan. I hope all four of us will represent the country together one day.”
As the Cue Sports calendar in Ashgabat nears its end, one thing is for certain, Turkmenistan has unearthed a group of unlikely heroes for the future.