Ashgabat 2017: Turkmen sporting ambassadors ready for the continent’s best
The 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games are less than 10 days away and host nation Turkmenistan will be hoping for a performance to catapult them onto the international stage as genuine medal contenders.
Throughout history, hosts of the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and other multi-sport events have traditionally performed above expectations at home. Competing in their capital city in Ashgabat, the Turkmen representatives will be focused on making the most of their home advantage and are well equipped to deliver a performance for the ages.
Across many sporting disciplines, Turkmen athletes are among the favourites going into the Games and will want to come through on their promises.
But some sports, in particular, are tipped to be favourable ground for the home athletes. Wrestling is huge in the country whose grapplers are confident of giving the home crowd a cheer and add quite a few medals to Turkmenistan’s tally.
Top contenders Suleyman Belliyev and Ali Seyhow both come from a long lineage of Wrestlers; they will be looking to take the Greco-Roman discipline by storm. Their history with the sport gives them an advantage to capitalise on, and ride the home support to an emotional victory.
Similarly, Freestyle Wrestling in Turkmenistan is one of the greatest pastimes and is a sport that has proved to be popular across generations of families, with the country expecting three to four medals.
Ashgabat 2017 will see brothers Batyr and Dovletmyrat Orazgylyjov take to the mat as they aim to follow in their father, Owazgeldi Orazgylyjov's footsteps and bring laurels to the country.
Competing in the 70kg and the 74kg categories respectively, the duo, who were introduced to the sport by their father, are preparing with single-minded focus on winning a medal and continuing their proud family tradition.
Wrestling in Turkmenistan is clearly a dynastic affair and the involvement of families shows the interest and importance placed on it. The stories of Didar Bairamov (86kg) and Saparmurat Myradov (65kg) echo sentiments expressed by the Orazgyyjovs, with Didar's mother and Myradov's brother inspiring them to take up the sport.
Moving on from the familiar setting of the wrestling mat, the hosts will also be looking to impress in previously unexplored and unchartered territories such as Bowling, where representatives like Geldi Garayev and Nasiba Orazmedowa are quietly confident in their abilities and have the skills to cause an upset.
Swimming is another sport where participation in the country has recently hit a high, with an exponential growth in children taking to the sport at a young age. The women's team has representatives who are 16, 15 and 11 years old, an unimaginable age to be taking on the world's best.
Fifteen-year-old Darya Semyonova took part in the Olympics in Rio last year while 11-year-old Anastasia Morgenstern is approaching the challenge of Ashgabat 2017 head on as she tries to show that competitiveness has nothing to do with age.
The men's team has eight representatives, with Merdan Atayev and Valentin Gorshkov shouldering the burden of the country's expectations. The Games could be the turning point for the country's swimming contingent, and a good performance could usher in a golden era.
A country that thrives on emotional energy, Turkmenistan are ranked one and two in the women's and men's category respectively in 3x3 Basketball, with Ayana Gokowa, the captain of the female side bullish in her belief that her team is ready to go for the gold.
For a team ranked 80th in the world, the host nation's Futsal team has come on by leaps and bounds in recent months, having gone on to defeat the world's 11th ranked team, Croatia, and drawing with Japan, who stand 16th in the rankings. Captain Watan Atayew and sharpshooter Asyrlyyew Geldimuhammet will be key as they look to upstage their rivals and make it to the podium.
It speaks volumes of the progress Turkmenistan has made in sports globally that they are fancied to win a medal in Equestrian, a sport in which their representatives come from extremely different backgrounds.
Fagilya Zaripova, the only female from the host nation to participate, used to work in a porcelain factory which is worlds apart from her current role as an Equestrian jumper. Along with her, former horse racer Ezber Babalyev also has his sights set on claiming glory in front of his home crowd.
From the unconventional to one of the most popular sports in the world, Indoor Tennis at the Games will see 17-year-old Hadzhymyrat Charyyrev test himself agsinst some of the best from the Asia and Oceania region. He is aiming high and wants to use the home crowd advantage to catapult himself to a place on the podium.
From the court to the track, Turkmenistan is approaching the Indoor Athletics at full pelt, with the confidence that they can win at least two medals through their best prospects, Alisher Saduyalev and Valentina Meredova, who will have to ward off the threat of the Chinese sprinters to assure themselves of a medal.
Since winning the right to host the 2017 Games in 2010, the Turkmen athletes have worked with dedication and intent to excel at Ashgabat 2017, as they look to use the historic event as the right platform to jump to worldwide success.