The national sport in Turkmenistan? Weightlifting, of course!
After the conclusion of the fifth day and 14th event at the IWF World Youth Championships in Durres, Turkmenistan is the second most medalled country in Albania, with a total of 10 awards, six of them gold. The Philippines are the actual leaders of the medal chart, with 12 podium presences (including seven victories). The latest success for the Asian nation came in the women’s 64kg, where Gulalek Kakamyradova got a bronze in the snatch, lifting 88kg. With three days to go, Turkmen officials hope that more top-3 finishes will come.
“Weightlifting is definitively a national sport in our country,” says Chary Mammedov, General Secretary of the Turkmenistan Weightlifting Federation. The explanation is simple: despite a historically solid tradition in the sport, the pivotal moment occurred during the last Olympic Games in Tokyo. In the women’s 59kg category, Polina Guryeva manages to achieve an unprecedented feat: the first-ever Olympic medal (all sports included) for the country in the history of the Games! “Needless to say that she is a hero for us. Moreover, it caused a great development for our sport. It brought many children and young athletes to weightlifting,” Mammedov explains. More recently, last December with the occasion of the IWF World Championships, Rejepbay Rejepov was also second in the men’s 81kg.
“We have a national programme of talent detection. When we find an athlete with the potential to shine, we take him to our Olympic Centre in Ashgabat. There, from 15 years old, they can continue studying and training, but they are already on the right pathway to eventually represent our country in the Games,” the Turkmen official explains. “The majority of our lifters come from two of our five provinces in Turkmenistan. The sport is very developed there. Overall, we have almost 300 weightlifters registered in our Federation, but many more are practicing this activity,” Mammedov adds.
After Guryeva’s exploit in the Japanese capital, there is hope that up to six lifters (three men and three women) can compete at the Paris 2024 Games. “I think we will make it. There is a good group of Olympic hopefuls that have good possibilities of getting there”. Before that, the main rendezvous of the year are the IWF World Championships next September in Riyadh (KSA). “We will have a strong team there. We are aiming at around eight medals in Saudi Arabia!”
When asked about the expectations coming to Albania, the National Federation General Secretary is clear: “We knew we could perform well, especially among women. The only small deception was perhaps in the men’s 61kg, where Perhat (Bagtyyarov) could have won the overall gold. If he had achieved his entry result, he would be first, but unfortunately he stayed 2kg short (258/260) and ‘only’ got silver. All the remaining events are going in accordance with the plan. And more successes will come in the days to come”.
The Turkmen delegation in Durres includes nine athletes – four of them medalled so far (three women, one man), and a real podium possibility will come in the women’s 81kg, where Amanjan Rustamova shares the best total entry with two other competitors. For the time being, the most successful one in these Championships was Medine Amanova, with three wins in the women’s 59kg category.
After the podium ceremony, the hero of the day was smiling but somehow disappointed with the result. “Of course, it’s always good to win a medal, but I could have done more. I did my best ever in the snatch, but I was not so solid in the clean & jerk,” confesses Gulalek. In the end, she finished fourth overall (189kg), after only lifting 101kg in the C&J. “While training, I lifted 107kg, so I had a margin to do much better”. Aged 17, she started practicing weightlifting after watching the sport at the 2017 Asian Indoor & Martial Arts Games, held in the Turkmen capital. “I liked it very much – as our national team won some medals there – and from then on I continue training hard,” she admits.
The first promising results came in 2020, at the National Championships. “I then understood that I had potential and that this was my way in the sport”. Training five times a week (including a three-day double session), Gulalek is now aiming at the Asian youth and junior championships. “But the ultimate goal are the 2028 Olympic Games!”
By Pedro Adrega, IWF Communications