Turkmenistan's leader not happy with lack of Olympic medals
ABS-CBN Sports on Aug 24, 2016 10:18 AM
Hojamuhammet Toychyyev, a weightlifter from Turkmenistan, a weightlifter from Turkmenistan, poses with members of the Indonesian team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
ALEXANDER VERSHININ, Associated Press
ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — The authoritarian leader of Turkmenistan has criticized sports officials and athletes after the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation failed to win any medals at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
State newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan on Tuesday quoted Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov as saying competing athletes had betrayed "the trust of the motherland."
Turkmenistan has never won any Olympic medals, but the fitness-loving Berdymukhamedov likes to cast the energy-rich country as a haven for sports enthusiasts.
Speaking at a government meeting, Berdymukhamedov issued a formal "severe warning" to the head of the state sports committee, Kakabai Seidov — a verbal reprimand that typically precedes dismissal.
In April, state employees were coerced into performing pre-work, open-air fitness exercises as part of an annual month-long drive to boost healthy lifestyles. Berdymukhamedov is regularly shown on television playing sports, working out in the gym and, on occasion, winning horse races.
Turkmenistan was represented in Rio by nine athletes across five disciplines, including judo, boxing, swimming and athletics. It remains the only one of the 15 former constituent republics of the Soviet Union never to have won a medal in either the Winter or Summer Olympics.
The government particularly wanted success in these games ahead of the 2nd edition of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games being held in Turkmenistan next year, with around $5 billion spent on the capital, Ashgabat.
Although no Turkmen athletes have won medals for their home country, a native of Turkmenistan, Daniyar Ismayilov, did win silver for Turkey in Rio in the men's 69 kilogram weightlifting class.
Ismayilov competed for Turkmenistan in the London 2012 Olympics, but came in 13th in the same weightlifting category. He later adopted Turkish citizenship.
While craving sporting success, Turkmenistan jealously guards its isolation and has been averse to using its energy riches to draw foreign expertise as a way of lifting its competitive standards.