World Nomad Games III In Kyrgyzstan. Besides attempting to travel to every country in the world, I also occasionally get the opportunity to partake in some unique experiences. One of those events was the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan. Over 1,500 athletes from 66 countries participated in the third WNG. As you might imagine, spectators are not witnessing baseball or basketball, but ethnic sports native to Central Asia. Besides the thousands of spectators, this event was headlined by political stars from the region such as the presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Hungary. And to top it off, even the game’s mascot, the snow leopard made an appearance at the World Nomad Games.
The event was spread across two venues. The first venue was found at Issyk-Kul Lake, a giant lake surrounded by snow capped mountains. This lake back in the Soviet days was a popular summer holiday destination. A semi-open hippodrome had been placed on the lake in the Cholpon-Ata area next to a compact arena. A number of events took place here including the opening and closing ceremonies.
Kyrchyn was the second venue, which was a valley set in the mountains, incredibly picturesque with a temporarily constructed hippodrome surrounded by hundreds of yurts (traditional felt tents). It was quite easy to imagine this event taking place a century ago as locals in local dress milled about with horses darting through the crowds.
I attended the WNG as part of the International Press Corp, which enabled me some excellent access for some great photographs. The press corps (and there were hundreds of us) stayed in the Bosteri area on the lake, which was only a ten-minute drive from the main hippodrome. Dozens of simple and small hotels dotted the neighborhood connected by walking paths, only minutes from the beach, with a looming, neon-lit Ferris Wheel shadowing the area. The area has a short shelf-life, filling up with locals and Russians for the months of July and August, soaking up the sun, and then shutting down in September. The hotel area felt a bit like a college campus, where I continually collided with fellow press members, when scurrying to one of the local restaurants, bars, or off to the bus to proceed to one of the venues.
I attended multiple events and watched several sports, some which I was not familiar with.
Horses play a central role of those living on the steppes of Central Asia. I was not surprised to see several horse races at the World Nomad Games. These events took place at the Hippodrome on the lake.
This was a simple and quick competition. Two opponents face off, with their feet braced on a board. They reach over and grab a shared stick. The objective; yank the stick over the board, sometimes with your competitor attached. Some of these matches finished in just a few seconds. These sports also known as stick wrestling originates from the Siberian area of Russia. There were a ton of other wrestling events as well, but I found this one unique.
This was right out of Game of Thrones. Archers riding sprinting on a horse dart down the grass, with bow and arrow in hand, attempting to hit multiple targets. I really admired how these competitors were able to guide their horses simply with their legs while they manned the bow and arrow. Extra bonus was many of the athletes were wearing traditional dress.
This is a traditional form of Kyrgyz wrestling on horseback. Two mounted horsemen enter the ring (a simple circle painted on a dirt field). Horseman become one with their mount, as they simultaneously maneuvered their horse as they grapple with their competitor. The horseman dexterously smacks their horse with their whip while alternately jamming it in their mouth, and then attacking their opponent. The goal; throw your enemy off its horse.
I was most interested and excited to view this sport. Kok Boru, which translates to gray wolf, is a traditional sport where competing teams on horseback try advance the ball to score on the other team’s goal. Well, it isn’t a ball, it is a 70-pound dead goat. The athleticism and brute force, while maneuvering a horse, is difficult to believe. At full gallop, a horseman, will twist his body, nearly upside down, to pick up this deadweight and hoist the goat back up. The opposing team are smashing against the goat holder, trying to pry it from their hands. The goat holder attempts to race the field to the opposing goal, to throw the goat into the circular goal. Sometime, the goat holder will launch his entire body into the goal with the goat. This is a highly skilled, high adrenaline sport.
The World Nomad Games are a unique event. It is a ton of fun, whether you are viewing the competitions or simply there to people watch. Rumor has it, that the next event will be held in Turkey.
World Nomad Games III In Kyrgyzstan