72 Medals in 23 Olympiads, Armenians at the Olympics

In 385 AD Prince Varazdat of Armenia won the boxing event in the Olympics. Nearly 1600 years later Vladimir Yengibaryan won gold in the men’s light welterweight category at the Melbourne Olympics on behalf of the Soviet Union. Armenia has never been a marvel at the Olympics; not now, nor back in Ancient Greece, but we still rejoice at the sight of a fellow countryman taking part in this prestigious competition. Win or lose it is always great entertainment. We have won 10 medals in 16 years of participation, but often disregarded are the 62 medals won by Armenians representing other nations since 1920.

While reading through the list of Armenian medallists it is surprising to see medals in a variety of sports – not just wrestling, boxing, weightlifting and Judo as we have been accustomed to in the past 20 years or so. Even the gold medallist this year, Arsen Galstyan, representing Russia, received his medal in Judo. This raises two questions: first, why would Armenians represent another country; and second, why have we recently excelled in specific individualist sports?

The footage of Galstyan winning the extra lightweight Judo was great to see but the concerning thought is why this Olympian, when ethnically Armenian, was representing another country. Galstyan lived in Russia since the age of 7 and obviously picked up the sport there. This leads to another question: if he stayed in Armenia would he be the champion he is today? It is impossible to give a definite answer, but arguably not despite the strong sporting spirit of Armenians in Armenia. However, in the Fatherland it seems Armenians aren’t really being driven into sport.

It is true there are bigger concerns for the Armenian government and the education ministry, but sport is a fundamental part of education. In addition to aiding the maintenance of one’s health it encourages teamwork, a competitive attitude and good sportsmanship. Three things it seems we are lacking in Armenia today, economically and politically. Personally, the sports problem in Armenia stands as a good representation of some of the country’s real problems. For one thing, everything involves money. Just recently during London 2012 an Armenian winning the gold would receive a total of $850,000 from various sources. Similarly, there are Armenian institutions whose events are run by cash incentives, legitimate or otherwise. Another is the lack of sportsmanship: fair play is universally-promoted in all sports but it is something Armenia lacks in the civil and social arenas – the corruption and mafia issues were once again highlighted by the murder of Vahe Avetyan recently.

Finally, an individualist attitude. During the Soviet era, multiple Armenian athletes were on teams for basketball or volleyball but it seems now all our Armenian athletes cannot do team sports. Like in Armenia there is a lack of unity. Oligarchy has developed as a result of people elevating themselves through legal or illegal means, and far too often subsequently disregarding everyone else. We Armenians are too few to be separated. We must strive to work as one team and see another Armenian as a fellow, as a teammate. Only when our teammates rise with us do we rise individually. Sports, and particularly team sports, should become a firm part of the Armenian youth’s curriculum. It could well be a key factor in the shaping of our country for the better.

— Vahe Boghosian

Arsen Galstyan, gold medallist in 2012

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