Sport: Armenian tricolor at Vancouver Olympics, while Yerevan hosted World Cup in wrestling

A small delegation of Armenian athletes marched through Vancouver’s indoor stadium among the first (as always alphabetically) during the opening ceremony for the XXI Winter Olympic Games taking place in western Canada’s coastal city. Armenia’s 22-year-old Alpine skier from Tsakhkadzor Arsen Nersisyan was entrusted with carrying the flag of the nation.

Winter sports fans back in Armenia could see the broadcast of the spectacular ceremony live on Saturday morning given the 13-hour time difference – an unusually early hour for sport broadcasts here. Many later complained about having missed the ceremony’s live coverage, while only getting separate scenes of the action in subsequent news programs.

The ceremony was somewhat overshadowed by the tragic death of a 21-year-old Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, in a horrific training crash hours before the Games opening. BC Place, a 55,000-capacity sporting venue for the Games’ opening and closing ceremonies, watched a heart-rending scene as the athlete’s teammates marched through the stadium. As the seven-member Georgian delegation came out, the mood in the crowd changed from celebratory to somber, with people rising to their feet in honor of the fallen athlete.

The Games will last till March 1. The once-in-four-years forum has brought together more than 5,000 athletes from 85 countries competing in 15 sports for a total of 86 sets of medals.

As always, strong favorites to win medals at the Games are sportsmen representing the United States, Russia, Germany, Nordic countries and some others. None of Armenia’s four athletes (two in cross-country skiing and two in Alpine skiing) will be in the race for medals, as the country’s sport officials admit.

The first to compete from Team Armenia will be skier Sergey Mikaelyan, representing the country’s coldest area Ashotsk, in a 15-kilometer cross-country race on February 15 (the broadcast on Armenian Public Television beginning at 10.00 pm Monday Yerevan time, with highlights available the next day from 1.20 pm), followed by the race featuring Kristine Khachatryan from Gyumri in ladies’ cross-country skiing. Armenia’s alpine skiers Arsen Nersisyan and U.S.-born Ani-Matilda Serebrakian will participate, respectively, in men’s and ladies’ slalom and giant slalom events between February 21 and 27.

Armenia has been participating in Winter Olympics as an independent nation since the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, with no memorable record scored by its athletes traditionally underperforming in winter sports. Armenia’s participation in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, included athletes in the same category, plus an ice-dancing pair in figure-skating.

Meanwhile, Armenia hosted a major international event in wrestling over the weekend that seemed to attract more attention of Armenian sports fans than the Olympic Games taking place in distant Vancouver. Athletes from nine countries had come to Yerevan to compete for the Greco-Roman Wrestling World Cup, an annual competition the holding of which this year had been entrusted to Armenia. Among the competing nations were host Armenia, Iran, Cuba, Turkey, Hungary, Russia, Georgia as well as the combined team of Sweden and Denmark (called Scandinavia or Nordic team).

On Saturday, the first day of the competitions, Armenian wrestlers scored seven out of seven in fights against the combined team of Scandinavia to the delight of numerous fans who came to support the team in the Karen Demirchyan Sport and Concert Complex in Yerevan. Later in the day, however, Levon Julfalakyan’s charges lost to Iran, which then went on to beat Turkey in the finals and claim the gold. In a tense bronze medal match Armenia beat Russia 4-3 thanks to the victory by Yuri Patrikeyev in the closing heavyweight showdown.