31 August 2004

Athens 2004 Olympic Games: A bitter harvest for Armenia

AZAD-HYE (30 August 2004): Actually there was no harvest at all. Armenia could not even pocket a single bronze medal in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, although it was represented by 18 sportsmen, performing in nine sport categories.

All neighboring countries achieved successful presence, compared to their participation in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games (Azerbaijan scored 1 gold and 4 bronze medals, Georgia 2 gold and 2 silver, Turkey 3 gold, 3 silver and 4 bronze, and Iran 2 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze).

From the opening ceremony it was clear that the Armenian team was lacking motivation. The men were wearing dark soviet style gruesome customs, while there was only one woman representative in the whole team. The CBS channel commentator mentioned that half of Armenia's population is below the poverty rate and that the winners of the golden medals will receive 40 thousand dollars (an amount that the Armenian Government eventually will not have to spend). We were wondering why this sum was not spent before the Olympic Games.

On 6 August 2004 President Robert Kocharian met with the participants and coaches of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games in a resort located in Dilijan. Addressing them he said "After the Olympics, I would like to hear each participant say that he did his best to triumph". For much of his disappointment the athletes will have nothing to tell him now. He promised them to be in Athens in August 23 to encourage them (note that Azerbaijan's President and Turkey's Prime Minister attended the opening ceremony and inspected the situation of their athletes personally before the start of the Games).

Armenia first appeared in the Olympic competitions as an independent state in Atlanta 1996 Games, when Greco-roman wrestler, Arman Nazaryan won Armenia's first Olympic title in the flyweight division. Also in Atlanta, Armen Mkrchyan won a silver medal in light flyweight freestyle wrestling. At the Sydney 2000 Games, Arsen Melikyan won a weightlifting bronze medal in the middleweight division to bring the nation's tally to one gold, one silver and one bronze.

But the Athens 2004 Games did not witness any kind of achievement under the Armenian flag, although four individual Armenians achieved medals in Greco-Roman wrestling under different flags (Armen Nazarian bronze medallist for Bulgaria; Artiom Kiouregkian bronze medallist for Greece; Ara Abrahamian silver medallist for Sweden and Mkkhitar Manukyan bronze medallist for Kazakhstan). Incidentally the last three athletes are born in Gyumri in the seventies of the last century and their life was devastated as youth when they witnessed the earthquake of 1989.

Bulgarian "Novinite" newspaper (issue 26/8/2004) says that Armen Nazarian was one of many Armenian wrestlers who sought greener pastures because of the lack of funds in his homeland. He initially wanted to compete for France, but the French said they didn't have the money to take him. He chose Bulgaria partly because his girlfriend lived there, but mainly because of an offer from the Slavia Litex wrestling club, where six of the eight members of the 1999 Worlds team trained.

Similar stories are behind our other champions who are now competing under different flags. If this trend continues we will feel much more disappointed in Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.

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