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2016 – the year of Uzbekistan

Asian Olympic qualification event
Chris Kempson documents the rise of Uzbekistan's Olympic team

UZBEKISTAN, a country of a little over 30 million people, topped the men’s ring medal table at Rio 2016, with seven medals overall, just edging out the legendary Cubans who finished with six medals. It is however, a different story for women boxers from Uzbekistan who have yet to win either a World Championship medal or an Olympic medal. Perhaps their time will come soon?

Boxing is a very popular sport in Uzbekistan and the men have won four Olympic gold, two silver and eight bronze medals. Not a bad medal haul, when one considers that Uzbekistan only competed in its own right as an independent republic at the Atlanta Games in 1996 – where a bronze medal was secured – quite big strides in a mere 20 years then.

There is an even more impressive medal haul in the men’s World Championships, which Uzbekistan first entered in Tampere, Finland in 1993. Since then, no fewer than 30 medals have been bagged: five gold, 10 silver and 15 bronze.

Their first gold medal was won in the Sydney Olympics in 2000 by light-welterweight, Mahammatkodir Abdoollayev, while, light-middleweight, Karim Tulaganov having won their first Olympic boxing medal, a bronze in Atlanta in 1996. Two bronze medals were also gained in Sydney.

2004 in Athens produced two more bronze medals, while disappointingly there was a ‘nil return’ in 2008 in Beijing. Another single bronze was forthcoming in London 2012 and then a medal explosion followed in Rio in 2016. Uzbekistan was making its statement at the Olympic Games and notably in the boxing ring.  We will look at their medallists shortly.

Some pundits might say, perhaps with some justification, in the overall light of past results, that their Rio medal haul, might be a one-off; the counter argument perhaps just as equally strong is that they are finally coming of age on the big stage and aim to stay there. Of course only time will tell whose assessment will be the more accurate of the two.

Now back to Rio 2016, where 11 Uzbek boxers were on parade. Three gold medals came via the fists of light-flyweight Hasanboy Dusmatov, flyweight Shakhobidin Zoirov and light-welterweight Fazliddin Gaibnazarov. Silvers went to 69kgs Shakhram Giyasov and middleweight Bektemir Melikuziev and finally a couple of bronze medals went to bantamweight Murodjon Akhmadaliev and heavyweight Rustam Tulaganov.

Perhaps it was not so surprising after all that they excelled in Rio when you consider that in 2016 taking part in their first ever World Boxing Series the Uzbek Tigers reached the semi- final stage where they were whitewashed 10-0 by the eventual winners the Cuba Domadores, who in turn prevailed 9-1 over our very own British Lionhearts in the VI series final.

So what does Tokyo 2020 hold for Uzbekistan? Will it be Rio all over again or perhaps disappointment as in Beijing in 2008. Who can tell? My hunch is that medals will be won, even if not quite so plentiful as those claimed in Brazil.

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