Asiad in Astana and Almaty sparks interest across continent and beyond

Asiad in Astana and Almaty sparks interest across continent and beyondASTANA. February 6. KAZINFORM. In recent days and weeks, the Asian countries and sports enthusiasts have directed their attention to the continent’s main sporting event of 2011, the 7th Asian Winter Games. Naturally, above all, the interest has been high among the 27 participating states. As the event approached, a great deal of stories dedicated to the Asian Winter Games began appearing in the media of the countries now competing for medals in Almaty and Astana.

Performance predictions for national teams, as well as the recognition of the Winter Asiad’s importance for Asia were often the main themes.

“The Asian Winter Games are held in Central Asia for the first time… This is a great event not only for people of Kazakhstan, but also for Central Asia and Asia, as a whole. This fully reflects the respect of Asian countries and peoples to Kazakhstan’s nation-building achievements… As a good neighbour, good friend, and a reliable partner of the Kazakhstan people, we sincerely rejoice that Kazakhstan is organizing the upcoming Asian Winter Games and are convinced that the friendly people of Kazakhstan will adequately organise these games and turn them into an event that will strengthen the friendship of the Asian peoples and promote sports development in Asia,” Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Jia Qinglin said in an interview with the Kazinform news agency.

To host such a large scale event is a transforming experience-this idea was pronounced in the Malaysian media as well. “By all means, holding the 7th Asian Winter Games is not just a large scale event for Kazakhstan’s sport community,” the Bernama National News Agency wrote on January 31. “It is one more opportunity to present itself to the whole world. The Asian Winter Games were held only in three most developed countries of Asia down to recent times: the 1st, the 2nd, and the 5th Asian Winter Games were held in Japan, the 3rd and 6th in China, and the 4th in South Korea. They are considerably experienced and developed countries. Nowadays, the international importance of Kazakhstan has significantly increased and the 7th Asian Games is the largest sport project which transforms notions of Kazakhstan.”

Sports enthusiasts in the neighbouring Kyrgyzstan have shown considerable interest in the Games as well. The country’s major sports news agency published numerous stories on new types of sport in which Kyrgyzstan’s team was going to compete. In an article by Ilshat Dautov, “We have the will and enthusiasm,” the author says that although the news about Kyrgyzstan’s participation in ski orienting came as a surprise to many, there is hope for good performance: “Except for Kazakhstan’s team, we are not familiar with other contestants… If everything goes well, we hope to win the bronze medal.”

In the country’s leading newspaper Vecherniy Bishkek (Evening Bishkek), the founders of Kyrgyz biathlon gave performance predictions for the two young athletes sent to Kazakhstan to represent their country: “The boys (16-17 year olds), of course, will not win the first places at the Asian Games, it’s too early to compete with the adult men… But the young Kyrgyzs will gain so much experience that in a couple of years they will show themselves.”

In contrast, South Korea was duly determined to achieve excellent results: “Our athletes are ready to compete in the games. I believe we can achieve best-ever result in Kazakhstan,” Kim Jong-wook, head of the South Korean delegation, is quoted as saying by the Korea Herald. “While the host Kazakhstan is expected to dominate the games, Korea is aiming to win ten gold medals to fend off strong challenge of its archrival Japan,” the newspaper continues. “Last year, during the Vancouver Olympics, we successfully established ourselves as a winter sports powerhouse. Now, we’ll prove that Korea is Asia’s leading country in winter sports,” Kim Jong-wook added.

The interest toward the Asian Winter Games was registered even in snowless countries. Prior to the games, the UAE Ice Hockey Association held a press conference where it announced that the country’s team would play against Kuwait, Mongolia, Thailand, Bahrain, and Kyrgyzstan, and that despite fierce competition , they hope the team would win gold in the second division. “The preparations have gone pretty well and we are ready for the competition,” Khalid al Habsi, a defender and long-time member of the national team, said in an interview to The National English-language publication. “We have been training five days a week, twice a day, and three hours each…Obviously we are travelling with high hopes of winning the championship.”

According to the pres sservice of the Kazakh Foreign Affairs Ministry, announcements that Jordan was sending two athletes for alpine skiing and freestyle skiing competitions came in a number of leading national newspapers such as Ad-Dustour, Al-Ghad, Petra News Agency, and others. Jordan is still new at Asian Winter Games, yet it hopes for good performance, the publications say. Moreover, Jordan’s participation in the event hosted by Kazakhstan is believed to make this year “a turning point in relations between the two countries.”

Last but not least, the Asian Winter Games generated some interest even in a non-Asian country, such as Canada, which is a leader in the winter sports competitions. In her “Greetings from Kazakhstan, a hockey hotbed,” Katelyn Peer, CBC Sports’ journalist covering the 2011 Asian Winter Games, writes she was shocked to discover “the Kazakh people are very fond of hockey.” “The geography fits the profile of a hockey-loving nation, but considering Kazakhstan’s world ranking I was doubtful that the people would be passionate about the sport,” Peer writes. As the author learns the opposite, she admits that with so much support from fans, the national hockey team is rightfully expected to do its best. “I get the feeling that winning gold at the Asian Winter Games, on home soil, could just be their ‘Vancouver’.”