Sporting Flashback: Hatis livens sports year as football continues to disappoint

Basketball

A full basketball gym has become a usual sight in Yerevan on a Thursday in late autumn/early winter as a women’s team popular in Soviet-era Armenia came back from more than two decades of obscurity to re-enthrall the hearts of local fans.

Hatis, which used to compete at high level in Soviet championships, returned with a bang by passing a successful qualification in its first-ever major European tournament.

Unrivaled in the local championship, the team consisting mostly of foreign players (representing Serbia, Croatia, Georgia, Ukraine and even the United States and Jamaica, but also including a few home-grown talents) was a success at international level competing against formidable Greeks as well as strong Russian and Turkish sides.

Two games against Besiktas won in style both in Istanbul and Yerevan enthused even those who know little about basketball, but who are hungry for an Armenian team – any Armenian team – to do well in sport.

“This was a victory that belongs to the whole of Armenia,” head coach of the team, Gia Ghazanchyan, said after Hatis’s first memorable victory against the Turkish side in Istanbul.

“There were six of us on the court against the Turks,” he said after seeing his team beat the Turks at home, meaning the huge support Hatis has been getting from fans in the stands, including some businessmen who are likely to continue their support for the developing “success story.”

Hatis will be holding their next home game against Russia’s Nadezhda just after Armenian Christmas, January 7.

Weightlifting

Nazik Avdalyan (69 kg) brought Armenia’s weightlifting a memorable gold at World Championships in South Korea. The 23-year-old Gyumri native became independent Armenia’s first world champion in weightlifting and tenth overall. This rare achievement brought Avdalyan the Best Athlete of the Year title. (Read a profile on Avdalyan here: http://www.armenianow.com/news/19995/world_champion_becomes_national_hero_at_home)

Several of Avdalyan’s teammates also won medals at the championships in South Korea:

Hripsime Khurshudyan (75 kg) won two “small” bronzes (snatch, clean and jerk) and an overall bronze in the combination of the two events. Arakel Mirzoyan (69 kg) and Tigran G. Martirosyan (77 kg) won silver medals in their respective categories. (All also made it to the Top Ten Athletes of the year.)

Boxing/Judo/Wrestling

After ten successful defenses of his IBF title Armenia’s great son Arthur Abraham resigned his belt in summer to join a challenging Super Six World Boxing Classic.

In his very first appearance in the ring in late October as part of the ongoing competition of six super-middleweights the Germany-based 29-year-old Armenian thumper (31-0, 25 KOs) dropped an Arkansas fighter (Jermain, “Bad Intentions”, Taylor) in the dying seconds of their 12-round bout in Berlin. He looks to continue his unbeaten career when he fights Michigan’s Andre “The Matrix” Dirrell next.

Another popular Armenian fighter, Vic Darchinyan, also ended the year on an upbeat note by quickly finishing Mexican challenger Tomas Rojas in their December 12 bout to retain his WBC/WBA super flyweight titles.

‘Raging Bull’ Darchinyan (33-2-1, 27 KOs) was fighting for the first time after an unsuccessful attempt at the world title in the 118-pound division earlier this year.

After the fight, Darchinyan, 34, and his promoter Gary Shaw indicated they would be pursuing a rematch with Nonito Donaire (22-1, 14 KOs) that the Armenian southpaw has been chasing since suffering a humiliating one-punch fifth round knockout at the hands of the ‘Filipino Flash’ and losing his IBF and IBO flyweight belts to him in July 2007.

In amateur boxing, Andranik Hakobyan (75 kg) won a silver medal at the World Amateur Boxing Championships this year – the only of nine boxers to bring a medal from Milan, Italy.

Earlier, Armenia was praised by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) for a well-organized world junior boxing championships in May – the first international boxing event hosted in Yerevan that had brought together more than 300 athletes from about 50 countries. Represented in all 13 weight categories, Armenia managed to win one gold, two silver and four bronze medals.

The other major international event held in Armenia in 2009 was the European junior judo championships in September that had brought together around 400 athletes from 40 countries of Europe, including judokas from Azerbaijan. The organization of those competitions was also hailed as a success by the international judo body. Earlier, in August, Armenia’s judokas Hovhannes Davtyan won a bronze medal at the world judo championships in Rotterdam, bringing Armenia its first ever world championship medal in judo. (Both Andranik Hakobyan and Hovhannes Davtyan are among the top best athletes in Armenia in 2009).

Armenia had only one medal at the World Wrestling Championships in Denmark as Roman Amoyan won a silver in the 55-kg section. Amoyan eventually made it to the top ten sportsmen of the year in Armenia, which also includes two other wrestlers, Yuri Patrikeyev and Arsen Julfalakyan.

As is known, Armenia has been awarded the right to host the World Greco-Roman Wrestling Championships in 2010. (Also, Gagik Tsarukyan, the President of the National Olympic Committee of Armenia, expressed Armenia’s desire to host the third Junior Olympic Games in 2018).

Chess

Armenia’s top chess player Levon Aronyan secured a place among the challengers of the FIDE world championship crown after becoming an early Grand Prix winner still in August.

At the fifth FIDE Grand Prix tournament named after world champion Tigran Petrosyan and held in the Armenian resort town of Jermuk in August, Aronyan placed second and scored a total of 500 points in the Grand Prix series, thus becoming unreachable for his opponents.

In 2009, Armenia also continued to celebrate team spirit in chess. The nation that produced two Olympiad winning teams (in 2006 and 2008) now was holding their breath for junior players who did not fail to deliver at the World Under-16 Chess Olympiad in Turkey, finishing third behind strong teams of Russia and India.

Senior players, meanwhile, were successful individually at the European Team Championship in Serbia in October. Gabriel Sargsyan was awarded gold, Tigran L. Petrosyan and Lilit Mkrtchyan silver medals and Lilit Galoyan a bronze.

Only Lilit Mkrtchyan among chess-players, however, has made it to the top ten athletes of the year voted by sport journalists.

Soccer

Armenia is looking forward to the Euro-2012 qualifying draw that will be held in Warsaw, Poland, in early February with what looks like a promise that it will avoid Azerbaijan given the troubled history of relations between the two countries that go beyond the football pitch. Also, it is likely to get a new coach, supposedly a foreigner, to try to improve the record of the underperforming team.

The main national team in 2009 left few memorable moments that included a win against Belgium. Predictably, though, Armenia lost to Turkey in a ‘fence-mending diplomacy’ match and to European champions Spain. They finished the year in the 100th position among 200 or so nations according the FIFA December rankings

In an otherwise bleak season, Armenia’s U-21 team led by Danish coach Flemming Serritslev managed to end the year on an upbeat note by drawing against Estonia at home 1-1 and beating Republic of Ireland 4-1 in Euro-2011 qualification. Armenia’s junior team thus unseated the Irish team from the fifth spot in the six-nation qualifying group and now look to consolidate their position when they travel for a return match in Ireland in early March.

None of Armenia’s soccer-players managed to win a place among the best ten sportsmen.