Sports year-ender: Armenian athletes put up no-nonsense struggle throughout 2007

The Best Sportsman of 2007 Gevorg Davtyan
The ending pre-Olympic year is certain to go down in history as a year of big ups and downs in Armenia’s sports as unlikely victories achieved by Armenian athletes alternated with no less dramatic surprise setbacks.

Picking up the loose ball…

The season for Armenian footballers, fans and specialists began with anticipation of a two-leg battle with Azerbaijan as part of the Euro-2008 qualifying campaign – supposed to be played home and away according to UEFA regulations. The national team led by a new foreign head coach admittedly managed to pick its best form and show its best football ever ahead of the September encounters, but the uneasy suspense gave way to disappointment and even dismay after the governing body resolved to cancel the fixtures for off-the-pitch reasons.

After a spell of inspired performance that allowed it to climb up to a record high on the FIFA world rankings (80th spot, or a jump of 48 places), Armenia ended on the downbeat their qualifying campaign following the death of its Scottish manager Ian Porterfield –only 93rd on the 201-nation list in November. The end-of-the-year draw for the World Cup 2010 qualifying stage held more surprise in store for Armenia as it was put in the same qualifying group with another archrival Turkey. However, the two countries’ federations as well as international football officials look positive that the matches will be played on a normal basis despite strained political relations between the two neighboring nations.

Domestically, despite a tougher competition, FC Pyunik Yerevan predictably earned their seventh straight title in the national league and will again represent Armenia in next year’s Champions League in Europe. Pyunik as well as runner-up Banants, in the UEFA Cup, will thus try to break the sad tradition of early eliminations in European club competitions for Armenian teams.

Steady on the board…

Armenian chess masters, as always, looked solid in various international competitions across age and gender groups. In particular, Armenia’s senior men’s and women’s national teams, respectively, earned silver and bronze in the European championships in Greece in November.

Armenia’s number one chess player Levon Aronyan, however, had a weaker-than-expected performance in major tournaments. After winning a prestigious Corus Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, at the beginning of the year and after a successful exhibition match against reigning world champion Vladimir Kramnik in Yerevan in May, Aronyan suffered a setback in the World Championships in Mexico four months later finishing only seventh among eight grandmasters. Earlier this month Aronyan resigned his World Cup holder’s title after being eliminated in the 1/8 final in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

Strong arms earn medals and glory…

Armenia weightlifters put up a dazzling show in the 2007 European championships in Strasbourg (France) earning as many as 18 medals, including 10 gold ones, in one of the nation’s strongest performances since independence.

Gyumri’s Gevorg Davtyan (who was eventually acclaimed as Armenia’s best sportsman of the year) and Ara Khachatryan (both 77 kg) won gold and silver respectively and Tigran Martirosyan (69 kg) won silver.

Meline Daluzyan and Hripsime Khurshudyan won gold medals in their respective weight sections (63 kg and 75 kg), with Nazik Avdalyan (69 kg) taking sliver.

The Strasbourg success was followed by a less impressive performance at the world championships in Thailand where Armenian female weightlifters failed to win a single medal. Armenia’s only medal came from Davtyan who managed only silver overall.

On the mat, against great odds…

No doubt, the “moment of truth” for Armenian athletes in 2007 was the participation of a team of Armenian Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestlers in the world championships in Baku, Azerbaijan.

In an extremely tense atmosphere in Azerbaijan, as was later revealed by the delegation members, only one of the 15 Armenian wrestlers, Yuri Patrikeyev (120 kg), managed to win a medal, which compelled the hosts to raise the Armenian flag. Patrikeyev and Arman Adikyan (66 kg) managed to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games in Beijing.

All eyes on professional boxers…

With no major successes scored by local amateur boxers, Armenian fans have followed with a great deal of interest the performances of their former countrymen currently fighting for other nations in professional boxing competitions.

Vic Darchinyan, fighting for Australia, lost his IBF and IBO flyweight champion’s titles in a dramatic bout with Filipino underdog Nonito Donaire in July, but the subsequent knockout victory of the “Raging Bull” over another Filipino boxer, Frederico Catubay, allowed the 31-year-old to stay in contention to win his titles back.

Arthur Abraham, performing for Germany, had three easy defenses of his IBF middleweight title. “King Arthur”, 28, first stopped Canada’s Sebastien Demers, before flooring fellow Armenian Khoren Gevor and sealing his dominance against Britain’s Wayne Elcock at the end of the year.

Pan-Armenian Games

No outstanding sport results or achievements were either expected or registered during the Pan-Armenian Games in Yerevan in August. But the number of participants and their geography in this traditional nationwide event proved really unprecedented.

Some 2,500 amateur, semi-professional and professional athletes representing 94 Armenian communities worldwide competed in 10 sports.

An estimated 80 million drams (or some $260,000) were spent on the organization and holding of the fourth Pan-Armenian Games.

This was one of the first major tests for the newly formed Ministry of Sports (previously the sphere of sport was run by the Ministry of Culture, Youth Affairs and Sport).

Planning ahead

Government spending on sports is expected to decrease next year – from some 1.5 billion drams in 2007 to 1.1 billion drams (or close to $3.6 million) earmarked in the 2008 state budget. Officials explain that the cutback in sports funding is a result of a changed classification of expenditures and a shift of several sport-related spheres to other expenditure patterns. Of this funding, 53 million drams (or about $175,000) are allocated for the participation of Team Armenia in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.