ALMATY — The first official day of the 7th Asian Winter Games competition showcased Kazakhstani strength, as the Games’ host country racked up 19 medals (6 gold, 7 silver and 6 bronze).
Kazakhstan’s Yevgeny Levkin flies above Almaty during the ski jump competition January 31. Levkin placed sixth. [Serik Kovlanbayev]
Japan is a distant second with 9 medals (3 in each metal) and South Korea is third with 8 medals (4 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze). No other Central Asian country won medals the first day of competition.
On Monday, Kazakhstan’s Olga Novikova won the Games’ first gold in the women’s ski orienteering sprint. China’s Liu Xiaoting won silver, with another Kazakhstani, Yevgeniya Kuzmina, taking bronze.
“In orienteering, you have no time to think about your rival,” Novikova said. “You’re mainly fighting with yourself; the main thing is to cover the route without any errors; then victory is guaranteed.”
In men’s orienteering, Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Sorokin took gold while Kazakhstan’s Aleksandr Babenko took silver.
Japanese office worder wins sprint classic
The most thrilling events of the first day took place in Soldiers’ Gorge in women’s sprint classic, cross-country skiing. Japan’s Madoka Natsumi, a 32-year-old office worker, triumphed in the gruelling 1.2km event, far outdistancing Kazakhstan’s Yelena Kolomina and Oksana Yatskaya.
“I decided to go all-out right at the start,” Natsumi said afterward. “During the whole final I simply charged ahead, never even looking at my rivals. Only when I crossed the finish line did I understand I’d won. It seemed to me the whole time that my rivals could overtake me.”
Kazakhstan’s Yevgeny Levkin touches down after a ski jump January 31 in Almaty. [Serik Kovlanbayev]
Natsumi was Japan’s first gold medallist. In a few minutes, Japan’s medal haul became richer when it took bronze in the men’s cross-country skiing sprint classic (1.6km). Yuichi Onda made a valiant effort but settled for bronze, with Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin and Nikolai Chebotko battling for gold and silver. It took a photo-finish to determine the younger Poltoranin had won.
Khrustaleva vows to win in future contests
In the women’s biathlon (7.5km sprint), China’s Wang Chunli won, with silver (Yelena Khrustaleva) and bronze (Marina Lebedeva) going to Kazakhstanis.
“I know Khrustaleva wants revenge for this defeat on home turf,” Wang said later. “My sole intention is to win all my remaining races. I came for gold and nothing else.”
Khrustaleva remained calm. “I lost on speed but am satisfied with my shooting,” she said. “We still have several events. I intend to get even with the Chinese athlete.”
Kazakhstan put on an impressive show in freestyle skiing. In men’s and women’s moguls Dmitriy Reiherd and Yuliya Galysheva collected gold medals.
Kazakhstan’s Nikolay Chebotko (no. 3) and Alexey Poltoranin (no. 2) compete with Japan’s Yuichi Onda and Kouhei Shimizu during the 7th Asian Winter Games men’s cross-country sprint outside Almaty January 31. Poltoranin took gold and Chebotko silver in a photo-finish result. [REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov]
The day ended with a dramatic hockey duel between the Kazakhstani and Japanese women’s teams. After two periods, the Japanese were winning 2-0, but in the third period, Larisa Sviridova and Zarina Tukhtiyeva scored to force overtime.
When overtime did not produce a winner, the game went into a shootout that Tukhtiyeva ended with Kazakhstan’s third and deciding goal.
South Korea also had a successful day, with its athletes taking golds in women’s downhill alpine skiing, men’s and women’s short track speed skating (1,500m) and speed skating (5,000m).
Kazakhstan wrapped up the day with a commanding 19 medals (6 gold, 7 silver, 7 bronze), followed by South Korea’s 8 medals (4 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze) and Japan’s 9 medals (3 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze). China holds fourth place with 5 medals (1 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze).
On Tuesday, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan’s men’s hockey teams will play China and Malaysia, respectively.
The games officially opened Sunday with an elaborate theatrical spectacle in the Astana Arena football stadium depicting the history and legends of the Kazakh nation that involved some 2,000 performers and took two years to plan.
On the sidelines of Monday’s competition, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge discussed the possibility of Kazakhstan hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, according to Nazarbayev’s press office.
Also on Monday the 57th conference of the Olympic Council of Asia Executive Committee met in Astana and announced that the 2015 Asian Winter Games will take place in Sapporo, Japan.
By Vsevolod Hvan and Balzhan Beisenova