This article was produced in association with Ashgabat 2017
As Turkmenistan prepares to host the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in September we capture the growing excitement among organisers, volunteers and, of course, athletes…
1. The Volunteers
When the call was made for the public to support the Ashgabat 2017 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games it was answered by thousands of Turkmens wanting to share the country’s dream of hosting its first major international multi-sport event.
The key to the success of any world-class event is the tireless work of the volunteers and when the top athletes from Asia and Oceania arrive in Ashgabat for 12 days of exhilarating sport, they will be greeted by 10,000 of the country’s most energetic young men and women in colourful uniforms and even more attractive smiles to ensure it will be an event worth remembering.
Volunteering in these numbers is a relatively new concept for Turkmenistan which will benefit for years to come from a dedicated workforce of patriotic young people giving their time to welcome the world.
But to become a member of the First Stars, the name of the Ashgabat 2017 volunteer army, means going through a tough selection process followed by intensive training and preparation.
For many of the volunteers, the journey began almost a year ago when training was launched in September 2016, and they received their first taste of what to expect in April when the successful Inspiring Ashgabat Test Event Series was held.
More than 1,500 volunteers worked on Inspiring Ashgabat but pre-Games training involved around 5,400 volunteers, and the training sessions have been stepped up as we draw closer to the Opening Ceremony on September 17.
It is a huge mobilisation of the country’s youngsters who will play a central role in the success story of Ashgabat 2017, and each one is well aware of the important job ahead.
“I’m so proud of being a part of Turkmenistan’s biggest-ever sporting moment,” says Rahim Hojagulyyev, a workforce team leader.
“Maybe one day, when I’m old and my grandchildren ask me about Ashgabat 2017, a defining moment in our history, I’ll be able to regale them with stories from my time as a volunteer.”
Hojagulyyev is a second year student at the Turkmen State Institute of Economics and Management and has been through intensive training to learn new leadership skills as well as role-specific skills.
“What I am learning from being a volunteer will undoubtedly help me in my life,” he says.
“It is making me a more confident person and dealing with people from across the world during the event can only improve my character.”
As well as the training sessions held in Ashgabat by seasoned international experts in event volunteering, some of the First Stars have gained frontline experience by volunteering at events abroad.
Gyzylgul Allashukurova, a student at the Turkmen State Institute of Finance, works in event services and was one of the lucky few to travel. She used the opportunity to overcome a language barrier.
“I attended the Fifth Asian Beach Games in Vietnam last year as part of my Ashgabat 2017 training,” she says.
“Since Vietnamese volunteers didn’t know Turkmen or Russian, I had to speak in English, which was incredibly difficult to start, but, by the time the competition was over, I was much more fluent.
“The experience helped me motivate myself to improve.”
While volunteering is a serious business, the youngsters will be told to have fun and enjoy their work so that their infectious energy spreads throughout the entire event.
Gozel Achilova, a ceremony team leader who has volunteered several times before, perhaps sums up this approach best.
“I really enjoy volunteer work which has given me so many memories already,” she says. “But I was happiest when my friends messaged me to say they saw me on TV during medal ceremonies in the Inspiring Ashgabat Test Event Series standing next to the winners. It’s a feeling that never grows old.”
2. The chairman
The 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games represents a serious investment made by Turkmenistan to develop a state-of-the-art sporting and city infrastructure that will benefit the nation for years to come.
For the first time, leading athletes from Oceania will compete in the event alongside Asia’s best, making this a truly international spectacle involving 21 sports being played at the impressive Ashgabat Olympic Complex in the heart of the capital.
With the countdown running down to the final weeks before its September 17 start, Chairman of the 5th AIMAG Executive Committee, Dayanch Gulgeldiyev (pictured), speaks about final preparations.
How is the city looking forward to welcoming participants and fans to Ashgabat 2017?
Dayanch Gulgeldiyev: The Ashgabat 2017 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games will be here before we know it, but we will be ready. When it opens, it will be Central Asia’s biggest-ever competition and we’ve put in an enormous amount of work into it.
The Ashgabat Olympic Complex, where the competitions will take place, is fully fitted out and ready to go. Having held the successful Inspiring Ashgabat Test Event Series in April, we’re very pleased with our preparations so far. The city of Ashgabat is ready to welcome Asia and Oceania’s best athletes. We’re looking forward to showcasing Turkmenistan to the world as a land of limitless opportunities.
Ashgabat 2017 will be a historic occasion, with Oceania countries taking part in the competition for the first time. What are your thoughts?
DG: Ashgabat 2017 will be a defining moment for us and the region as a whole for many reasons, but of course it will be an honour for us to host Oceania countries at an Asian multi-sport competition for the first time.
This can only be good for the quality of the sports that we are hosting and it will make for some very interesting competitions.
What sort of legacy can this event provide for Turkmenistan both on and off the field?
DG: This event will inspire a whole new generation of Turkmen sportsmen and women. Our athletes are all training intensively because they will have the added pressure of performing in front of their own family and friends which should motivate them to strive harder. Their performances will be watched by the country’s youngsters who will hopefully be encouraged to play sport and represent us in the years to come.
But one of the most exciting benefits is the introduction of mass volunteering, which is a relatively new concept for Turkmenistan. We are delighted to see thousands of young people step forward and their training and experiences will undoubtedly benefit the country as a whole beyond Ashgabat 2017.
Ashgabat 2017 represents a big investment made by the country… will it reap dividends?
DG: Hosting a competition of this magnitude isn’t just about the event itself. Money was invested not only on construction of the Ashgabat Olympic Complex, but also for upgrading the capital city’s infrastructure. Ashgabat is a state-of-the-art modern city to rival any in the world. Looking around you’ll realise that a key reason why Ashgabat 2017 will succeed is because it is organised in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
We’ll use this historical opportunity to achieve even more progress and advancement in all respects.
A significant challenge put before us as event organisers is to open Turkmenistan to the whole world through sports and hospitality, and Ashgabat 2017 will enable us to do just that.
3. The home favourite
At 19 years old, Turkmenistan’s Seydilla Tazayev (pictured) stands tall among his peers after making history in June by winning his nation’s first-ever Greco-Roman gold on the continental or world stage.
The softly spoken athlete made a dream comeback against Iran’s Keremat Abdevali in the final of the Asian Junior Championships in Chinese Taipei. Despite trailing by three points with less than 10 seconds remaining on the clock, he earned a famous win with a four-point high dive takedown.
Tazayev’s glorious rise to the top is taking its time to sink in but the modest youngster believes he is ready to step up to the seniors and make an impact when his country hosts the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games from September 17-27.
“Honestly, I couldn’t believe I’d won gold until I had it firmly around my neck. Only then did I realise it was truly mine. This is my greatest triumph. The first thing I did was to call my parents,” he says.
Tazayev’s ascent to Asian Junior gold did not happen overnight. He had put up consistent performances since 2015, winning several medals in the process.
In 2015, he won a silver at the Memories of Heroes of Second World War tournament in Moscow, Russia. He also took bronze at the Asian Cadet Championships in New Delhi, India.
A year later, he was a bronze medallist at the Junior World Championships in Macon, France, and recently, took bronze at the 2017 Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku, Azerbaijan, to show that he is more than ready to step up to the senior scene.
The athlete, who is hungry for more success, has his sights set on the upcoming 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat.
“It’s difficult to explain my feelings as I get ready for Ashgabat 2017. I’m anxious, but also eager to fight,” he says. “I’m ready. Competing in front of a home crowd will be a dream-come-true moment for me. I’m looking for nothing short of gold and I’m going to work hard for it.
“I have won eight or nine international medals, but none of them would be as precious to me as a medal at Ashgabat 2017. I’m very motivated to win.”
For Tazayev, the love for sport comes above everything else.
“I started training in Greco-Roman wrestling when I was in grade four and have been in love with the sport ever since. For the time being, I’ve given up my studies to focus solely on the sport. I lead a life dedicated to wrestling and I aim to be successful,” he says.
Unsurprisingly, Tazayev has set out a very clear path for himself in his mind.
“I want to win as many gold medals as possible in the next five years, beginning with Ashgabat 2017. I want my country’s national anthem to play at international arenas around the globe. In three years, I want to fight for gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games. It’s an achievable target,” he says.
He also has a clear message for the people of Turkmenistan.
“My request to my countrymen is to come to the venues in Ashgabat and cheer for all of us when we compete. It’ll motivate us and go a long way in boosting our confidence. With your support, we’ll be able to perform well at home,” he says.
4. The international star
After securing bronze at the 2017 IBJJF World Championships in California earlier this summer, Jordan’s Lama Qubbaj says she is hitting her peak as she prepares for the Ashgabat 2017 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games from September 17-27.
The 28-year-old reached the semi-finals of the heavyweight division, adding to her long list of international medals that have elevated her to becoming one of the world’s greatest female ju-jitsu fighters.
Her rise is even more astonishing considering that the three-time world champion only took up the sport five years ago.
Now she is focused on a busy few months that will see her compete at the World Games in Poland prior to heading to Turkmenistan.
“As an athlete, I am probably in the best shape of my life now as I have been training really hard,” she says after completing an intensive month’s training in New York. “I have two huge events still to come this year and hope that by the time Ashgabat 2017 comes around I will be in the best physical and mental shape possible.”
Despite being a latecomer to the sport, Qubbaj quickly became one of the best in the world, a feat she puts down to her coach, Sami Al Jamal.
“I was playing basketball and shot put mainly but decided to try ju-jitsu as a way of keeping fit,” she says. “I loved the sport immediately and when I met coach Sami he told me I could be a champion within six months.”
He was not wrong. After some intensive training Qubbaj participated in the Abu Dhabi World Ju-Jitsu Championships and took gold in her weight and bronze in the open weight.
Jordan is enjoying considerable success across the sport which is now fully recognised as a federation by the Jordan Olympic Committee, thus allowing athletes to compete officially under the Team
Ju-jitsu is not currently included on the Olympic roster, which is a disappointment for a country with so much world-class talent, but the World Games and then Ashgabat 2017 provide Qubbaj with the chance to shine in the international spotlight.
“To be in the Olympics would be a dream come true,” she says.
“I am sure that the sport will get there one day as it is now included in multi-sport events at a continental level like Ashgabat 2017.”
The professional architect doesn’t have to look very far for inspiration with her sister Rana, also a former world champion, her top role model.
“She was the first Jordanian female to win titles in ju-jitsu overseas and I hope she will be there competing too in Ashgabat,” she says. “She has overcome many difficulties and proven that females in Jordan can compete at an international level.
“I get my motivation from her as she is the best.”
Looking ahead to Ashgabat 2017, Qubbaj said she has been researching about the event and the city to be prepared.
“I am looking forward to the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat,” she says.
“It will be tough, but for sure it will be a well-organised competition and I can’t wait to compete there. I have read on the internet about all the incredible work they have done in building the facilities which has only made me even more excited to get there and see it for myself. It will be a memorable experience.”