Could Ashgabat 2017 be a defining moment for swimming in Turkmenistan?
There are high expectations of the 11 member Turkmenistan swimming team when the short-course action features at the Ashgabat 2017 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in September.
Tough medal goals have been set and new national records and personal bests are expected from the eight men and three women, but collectively they all know that success at the event could inspire a whole new generation of swimmers for years to come.
The host nation’s best hopes for glory rest on the wide shoulders of Merdan Atayev (50m and 100m backstroke) and Valentin Gorshkov (50m, 100m freestyle, 100m individual medley).
Atayev, who carried Turkmenistan’s flag at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, said he was hungry for success in front of his home crowd at the Aquatics Centre.
“Simply put, I want to win at least one gold medal for Turkmenistan. I’m confident I can do well in both 50m and 100m backstroke events. I have plenty of competition experience on the big stage and I’m ready. The home crowd is going to power me forward,” said the charismatic swimmer, who set a new 100m backstroke national record (54.89 seconds) during the Inspiring Ashgabat Test Event Series earlier this year.
While competing in front of thousands of fans will feel like a walk in the park for Atayev, there are still things that make him extremely nervous — like watching his half-brother Suleyman Atayev compete in the 50m breaststroke.
“Whenever I meet my relatives, the only thing they discuss with me is my medal prospects at Ashgabat 2017 and their hopes and aspirations for me. It adds to the pressure, but I’m pleased with their support. However, one thing that makes me extremely nervous is watching Suleyman during his races. I cannot bear to watch him compete,” he said.
Despite being only 20, Gorshkov is one of the squad’s most experienced swimmers. He competed at the 2015 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Kazan, Russia, and also took part in the FINA Short Course World Championships in Doha, Qatar (2014) and Istanbul, Turkey (2012).
The swimmer said he was ready for the challenges ahead and knows that the importance of the team’s results extends beyond the pool.
“I know I’ll be under tremendous pressure at home, but for me, performing under pressure is nothing new,” he said. “I served in the Turkmenistan Armed Forces for two years and it taught me a lot about managing pressure. I’m confident about delivering when the time arrives.
“Swimming is still a relatively new sport in our country. I’m hoping Ashgabat 2017 will prove to be a defining moment for swimming in Turkmenistan. A few medals will go a long way in attracting young talent to the pool,” he added.
The national Swimming team also boasts two of the youngest participants the event is likely to see in September. While Musa Jalayev (200m individual medley) is 14, Anastasiya Morgenstern (50m, 100m freestyle) will only turn 12 in October.
Despite being one of the team’s youngest, Jalayev does not display any jitters.
“It feels good to be the team’s youngest male swimmer, but I still cannot believe I’ll represent Turkmenistan at Ashgabat 2017. I’ll try not to be overawed by the occasion. My family and friends will be there to watch me and I’m looking forward to the experience,” he said.
Ezizguly Ballykov (50M, 100M butterfly), Damir Babushkin (50M freestyle) and Nikita Baryshnikov (50M, 100M backstroke) and Muhammet Jumagylyjov (events to be confirmed) are the other Turkmen male competitors.
Among the women, Darya Semyonowa (50M, 100M breaststroke) and Enesh Begmyradowa (100M, 200M individual medley), in addition to Morgenstern, will take part.
The swimmers attended a training camp in Volgograd, Russia, in February, and have been practicing twice a day since. More overseas training is planned ahead of Ashgabat 2017.
The team’s Russian coach, Yepifanov Sergey Petrovich, said that he had set out clear goals for his team members.
“I expect Merdan and Valentin to be on the podium in all of their competition events,” he said. “I also want every member of my team to set new personal best marks. This is the least I’m asking from them. I’ve been with them for six years now and I know they’re capable of achieving those targets.”
The Short Course Swimming competitions at Ashgabat 2017 will run from 22–25 September at the Aquatics Centre.