ASTANA – The Feb. 7 to Feb. 23 Olympic Games in Sochi once again were watched by people from every corner of the Earth and demonstrated the discipline, determination and sportsmanship that bonds nations and continents.
The Kazakh national Olympic team included approximately 50 athletes who competed against the best in the world. Spectators around the globe saw the Kazakh national flag when the country’s top figure skater Denis Ten won bronze on Feb. 14.
Among the Kazakh team’s main sponsors in Sochi, and London in 2012, were the Samruk Kazyna National Welfare Fund and Presidential Professional Sports Club Astana. Fund Public Relations Director and Presidential Club Board Member Aidar Makhmetov traveled to Sochi as a sponsors representative.
“I had never been to Sochi before, but I could imagine what it was like before. And I saw with my own eyes what the city has transformed into,” Makhmetov told The Astana Times in an exclusive interview.
“I couldn’t but help thinking that I was somewhere in Europe and not in Russia. I was also surprised by the work of volunteers. They were very friendly, helpful, always smiling, wishing athletes luck and to come back again. It was an eye-opener for me. It was not my first time in Russia, but for the first time, I encountered such sincere intentions,” Makhmetov said.
“As for our athletes, they had a fighting spirit. I witnessed it myself. I think Roman Krech (seventh in 500-metre speed skating) and Denis Kuzin (seventh in 1,000-metre speed skating) did their best, and their results should be considered as good ones. Moreover, I spoke to the head coach of the short track team Madygali Karsybekov, who impressed me very much. I think the fact that the short track team made it to the finals (placing fifth in the end) … is a very high result, considering they didn’t have much experience,” Makhmetov said. ” This sport I think has a very high potential in Kazakhstan, considering that there are eight medals in this event. I think we should focus on this sport. It’s a fast, dynamic event. If Koreans are good at it, why can’t we try it as well?”
Makhmetov also did not exclude the possibility of attracting a South Korean short track skater, as Russia did with Viktor Ahn, who won three gold and one bronze for team Russia in Sochi and has become a six-time Olympic medalist.
“I can’t exclude the possibility of attracting a South Korean short track skater to Kazakhstan, but he must be their top skater and only one, as Russia did.”
Makhmetov also knows Ten personally and was among the first to predict he would do well.
“I have known Denis [Ten] for many years and now I happen to coordinate his progress as part of the Samruk Kazyna fund. What I like about him is his determination, his professionalism and his approach to work,” Makhmetov said. “Preparing for the Olympics, he set a goal and was never sidetracked. He had a chance at gold, considering that both [Canadian silver medalist Patrick] Chan and [eventual gold medalist Yuzuru [Hanyu] fell. But due to figure skating politics, we understand that bronze is best we can get. Denis skated earlier than most of his opponents and stayed on top for quite some time, then when the last opponent was skating, I texted Denis’s mother with congratulations and she replied likewise, only then it struck me, what if the judges would favour the American for bronze and Denis would end up fourth, and I had already texted all congratulations for the bronze. But good thing is Denis remained in third,” Makhmetov said.
Ten did remain third thus bringing Kazakhstan a historic medal. “Afterwards, we took Denis out to celebrate,” Makhmetov said.
Makhmetov was also among the first ones to hold the medal. “It was very heavy, and it is a symbolic compensation for the heavy, hardy work and injuries Denis had to withstand to get it. It was his second Olympic Games in his career. I think his third Games in South Korea will be even more successful.”
Also in Sochi, Makhmetov met with Thomas Bach, the Olympic gold medalist in fencing in Montreal in 1976, and currently the ninth president of the International Olympic Committee.
“He initiated the conversation and started asking about Almaty. The bid to host the Olympic Games in 2022 in Almaty is controversial in Kazakhstan. Many don’t favour it. I don’t handle this question, but I would like to say that hosting the major world event would record Almaty and Kazakhstan into sports history for centuries. Undoubtedly, all [people around the globe] will discover Kazakhstan–that’s one. Second, the whole city infrastructure would change. Preparing for the Olympics is not just building new sports facilities, we have enough of that, but also re-shaping the architecture of the city. On the whole, the Games might even change the mentality of people for the better concerning some negative traits we have.People will start appreciating nature more, respecting cleanliness and order, all these disciplines [people] and the infrastructure that remains afterwards, as I see it in Sochi, would contribute a lot to our lives in Kazakhstan in a positive way,” Makhmetov explained.
According to Makhmetov, Almaty 2022 could happen because “the main contenders like Davos and Munich are out, as you well know. As for Oslo, the government is pro Games but the people don’t support the initiative, so there is only Krakow that proposes a two-town Olympic games that contradicts the main idea of the Games to be held in one town. Then there is Beijing that just hosted the summer Olympics [in 2008]. But since the next Winter Olympics are going to be in South Korea, I don’t think [the Olympic committee] would grant the bid to another Asian country. In this sense, I think Almaty would be in the final with Oslo.”
He went on to explain that the Winter Games in Norway in Lillehammer in 1994 have been praised for over two decades.
Makhmetov also assured that both Samruk Kazyna and the Presidential Professional Club Astana will continue to contribute financially to developing sports in Kazakhstan.
“We are not only doing it financially, but also administratively. We hope to cooperate with the Sports Agency. I am also very glad that Kazakh citizens are getting involved in sports and supporting their countrymen and teams. I hope the government will continue to strengthen the role of sports in Kazakhstan,” he added.