Assessing Uzbekistan’s Olympic Performance, 1992-2012

by Sevket Hylton Akyildiz

The legacy of Soviet body politics is still significant in Central Asia. The Soviet days are gone, but the (Soviet) influence of western-style sports, sport psychologists, doctors and coaching personnel has been absorbed by the independent Central Asian societies. At the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games multicultural athletes from Uzbekistan competed to show their skills – and showcase their country abroad. Observing this I ask whether the Uzbek Olympic team continues its success story established in 1992, and whether it maintained or improved their medal tally?

The Barcelona 1992 Olympics Games were a new experience for the Uzbek athletes as the Soviet Union no longer existed. A United Team represented several of the former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan and Russia. The former Soviet republics and Russia had prepared several years ahead for the 1992 Olympic Games, and their success was evidence of how the Soviet sports model continued to deliver quality athletes for international competitions – despite the economic recession and restructuring. Indeed, the United Team topped the finals medals table. Athletes from the independent Republic of Uzbekistan won three gold, two silver medals and one bronze medal. Oksana Chusovitina and Rosalia Galieva won gold in women’s gymnastics. A gold medal was won by Marina Shmonina in the 4x100m relay track race; this was the first gold medal in track and field won by an Uzbek. Sergey Syrtsov (weightlifting) won a silver medal. Anatoliy Asrabev (shooting) won a silver medal, and Valeriy Zacharevich (fencing) achieved bronze.

Since the Barcelona 1992 Olympics the performance of the Uzbek Olympic team has incrementally improved: winning two medals at the Atlanta Summer Games of 1996; four medals at the Sydney Games of 2000; five medals at the Athens Games of 2004; and then six medals at the Beijing Games of 2008. (Comparative numbers of Olympic medals were won by athletes from Uzbekistan in the Soviet era.)

At the Athens Games of 2004, Uzbekistan took 34th place in the final medal tables, winning five medals in total: two gold medals (wrestling), and one silver medal (wrestling), and two bronze medals (boxing). In their final medals tally, they were ahead of South Africa, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Ireland. Uzbekistan managed to achieve 40th in the final medals table at Beijing Olympic Games of 2008. Furthermore, and this is an important observation, the Uzbek team reflects the multicultural ethos initiated by the Soviets. For instance, Artur Taymazov won a gold medal in wrestling at Beijing and is of North Ossetian heritage; Anton Fokin won a bronze medal in men’s parallel bars at the same games, and is of Slavic heritage.

So how did the Uzbek Olympians perform at the London 2012 Olympic Games? Achieving a medal at the Olympic Games is reward enough for most elite athletes – however, material incentives are not unwelcome. Media reports that the Uzbek sporting authorities offered the sum of $150,000 (£96,000) to Uzbek athletes able to win gold at London. Yet, all did not start well for the Uzbek team. First, Luiza Galiulina (aged 20, artistic gymnast) failed a routine drug test by Olympic Games officials – testing positive for the banned diuretic furosemide, perhaps taken when she was ill in June 2012 – and she was thrown out of the competition.

On the sporting front things progressed better when Rishod Sobirov (aged 25) won bronze (60kg Men’s Judo). Relief! The first medal was won. Denis Istomin (aged 25) of Uzbekistan failed to advance into the men’s singles tennis quarter finals when he was defeated 7-5, 6-3 by Swiss Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. Shortly after, reigning Asian champion Ramziddin Sayidov (aged 30, 100kg Men’s Judo) lost out on a bronze medal after his defeat by the German Dimitri Peters (aged 28). Two further bronze winners were Tigiev Soslan (aged 28) in the men’s 74kg freestyle wrestling, and Abbos Atoev (aged 26) in the men’s middleweight 75kg boxing.

Approximately fifteen female athletes from Uzbekistan participated at the London 2012 Olympics, including Marina Sisoeva (48kg weightlifting), Natalya Mamatova (67kg taekwondo), Svetlana Radzivil (high jump) and Elena Smolyanova (shot put). Lastly, a gold medal was won (once again) by Artur Taymazov (aged 33) in the 120kg freestyle wrestling category defeating the Georgian Davit Modzmanashvili (aged 25) in the finals.

At London 2012 the Uzbek Olympic team finished 47th (seven places below their Beijing 2008 position) and overall won four medals (which is two less than in Beijing). In comparison the Kazakhstan Olympic team finished 12th! However, the final position of the Uzbek Olympic team – finishing ahead of India, Indonesia, Greece, and Latvia – commendably displays their capabilities and abilities.

We wish the athletes from Central Asia competing at the London 2012 Paralympic Games well.

Click here to access the Kyrgyz version of this article on BBC Kyrgyz and here for the Uzbek version available on BBC Uzbek.

About the author:

Sevket Akyildiz received his PhD in 2011 from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He currently works at Arcadia University, London, and SOAS, University of London. His academic research focuses upon nation-state building and identity, sport and multiculturalism, and sustainable and eco-living – with special reference to the regions and societies of Central Asia, and Great Britain. His doctoral dissertation was a study of Soviet citizenship education and civic identification in Uzbekistan circa 1980-1991. He is a founding member of the Eurasia Studies Society (TESS) and has had several papers published.