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Kyrgyz Female Wrestler – Hooligan or Olympic Heroine?

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

Aisuluu Tynybekova is no ordinary athlete. A 19-year-old female wrestler from Kyrgyzstan's mountainous Naryn province, her bid for Olympic glory has won her accolades in the the global media, who have memed her as the “the Central Asian country’s best hope to bring home a medal”.

But her rise towards stardom has also brought her some less desirable attention at home, where she will face a criminal charge of “hooliganism” after her time at the games is over. Netizens have overwhelmingly backed Tynybekova's Olympic bid in spite of the charge.

Referred to by Reuters as a “girl among men” due to her success in a male-dominated sport, her training regimen will provide television commentators at the games with something to discuss during those boring “warm up moments”. As the Washington Times writes:

The first female wrestler to represent her country at the games, Ms. Tynybekova’s training consists of sparring with male athletes at least 20 pounds heavier than she is and jogging several miles each week in a gorge that measures close to 5,000 feet deep.

Time Magazine, meanwhile, delighted in her horse-derived answer to Lucozade, noting that she “drinks fermented mare’s milk for strength.”

Aisuluu Tynybekova, Kyrgyzstan's first woman to compete in freestyle wrestling at the Olympics. Screenshot from video "Aisuluu" uploaded on YouTube on May 11, 2012, by Radio Azzatyk.

Aisuluu Tynybekova, Kyrgyzstan's first woman to compete in freestyle wrestling at the Olympics. Screenshot from video “Aisuluu” uploaded on YouTube on May 11, 2012, by Radio Azzatyk.

(View Tynybekova's profile on the official London 2012 Olympics website).

But her image in the country has been roughed up by an incident which took place next to an ice cream stand located in a city underpass. On April 3, only some time after the official list of Olympic games participants was approved, Aisuluu was accused of beating another girl, seventeen-year-old Yasmin Nurdin kyzy, after an argument ensued in the bowels of an underpass in the centre of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.

On July 20, 2012, the Leninsky district court of Bishkek suspended [ru] the wrestler's case until her return from the Olympic Games. Nurdin kyzy's mother, who local news outlets have accused of seeking to profit financially from Tynybekova's new-found fame, said she was “categorically” against the court decision and is ready to appeal.

Tynybekova complained [ru] to the country's most widely read Russian language newspaper, Vecherni Bishkek, that “people try to provoke me into violence every day”. As she told the newspaper:

В тот день в подземном переходе мы с Розалией собирались купить мороженое. В это время кто-то из проходящих мимо толкнул меня. Я, обернувшись, увидела троих девушек и одного парня. Затем толкнувшая меня девушка (Ясмина. - vb) начала интересоваться, почему я встала не на том месте. Я сказала на русском языке и на кыргызском, что не хочу проблем, и, расплатившись за мороженое, мы направились к выходу.

On that day Rosaly [another London-bound Kyrgyz athlete] and I went into the underpass to buy ice cream. At that time, one of the passersby pushed me. I turned around and saw three girls and one guy. Then the girl that pushed me [Yasmin] asked why I was standing in her way. I told her in Russian and in Kyrgyz that I didn't want any problems, and paying for the ice cream, we moved towards the exit.
Tynybekova's training consists of sparring with heavier male athletes. Screenshot from video “Aisuluu” uploaded on YouTube on May 11, 2012, by Radio Azzatyk.

Tynybekova's training consists of sparring with heavier male athletes. Screenshot from video “Aisuluu” uploaded on YouTube on May 11, 2012, by Radio Azzatyk.

Vecherni Bishkek also quoted [ru] Tynybekova as warning the group that she had “enough strength to beat two men, let alone one girl.” Tynybekova said they “didn't listen to her” and that she was subsequently surrounded by the group, a version of the story Yasmin Nurdin kyzy denied [ru]:

Я спросила, можно ли пройти, и слегка коснулась рукой. Она агрессивно отреагировала, начала возмущаться, кричать. Одна одногруппница пыталась помочь, но не получилось. Остальные только выйти успели [из подземного перехода] и в шоковом состоянии просто наблюдали, ничего не могли сделать.

I asked whether we could get past and gently touched her with my hand. She  responded aggressively, got irritated, and began shouting. One of my classmates tried to help, but without success. Others have just walked out [of the underpass]; they were shocked and watched the incident, unable to do anything.

Nurdin kyzy's mother recently told the press that her daughter was in hospital for ten days with a broken nose, blackened eyes and concussion. Tynybekova's trainer told [ru] Kloop.kg that the mother wanted “the money Aisuluu would get if she won a prize at the games.”

Netizens show support for Olympian

Kyrgyz netizens have mostly sided with the accused wrestler in this unseemly spat. Eliza Kenenbaeva, a presenter for Radio Azzatyk (Radio Liberty's Kyrgyz service) tweeted [ru]:

Айсулуу Тыныбекова, хотя и внешне грубая спортсменка, очень наивная и хорошая девушка. Не верю всей этой шумихе.

Although Aisuluu Tynybekova appears to be a rough athlete, she is a very naive and nice girl. I do not believe all this hype.

Commenting under a Kloop.kg  article about the decision to postpone the trial until after the games, Gulya Toktogulovna said [ru]:

Это справедлива вот это молодцы молодцы АЙСУЛУУ вперед :) тока не хулигань :)

It's a fair [decision], well done, go Aisuluu :). but no more hooliganism :)

Other netziens doubt the motives of Aisuluu's accusers. Why hadn't they accused Aisuluu right after the event? Why only after it became clear that Aisuluu could be heading for an Olympic medal and prize money?

As Mira Alieva commented [ru]:

Если это настолько серьезно было, почему они еще в апреле не подали в суд[?]…

If it was so serious, why didn't they go to court back in April[?]…

Amid a storm of press criticism the girl's mother has now withdrawn [ru] a claim for “moral damages” of 500,000 Kyrgyz Soms (over 10,000 US dollars). In Kyrgyzstan, the average salary is $200 per month. Tynybekova's family is engaged in small-scale sheep husbandry. Under Vecherni Bishkek's online coverage of the case, Poklonnica summed up [ru] a commonly held feeling that Yasmin and her mother were going for gold – and not in the Olympic sense:

Ну вот, что и требовалось доказать. Все ради денег!!! И олимпиада непочем!!

Well, that's exactly what was to be demonstrated. Everything was for the sake of money! And the Olympics is worth nothing to them!

Another Vecherni Bishkek reader, Nur equated [ru] Aisuluu's accuser, a permanent resident of Bishkek, with a sly city slicker luring an unsuspecting country girl into a trap:

верю. по фото Ясмины видно что она способна на такое. разумеется это сугубо личное мнение. такое сплошь и рядом происходит, когда якобы городские девочки ставят на место приезжих. лет надцать назад была сама приезжая, толстая и некрасивая )))) и меня тоже часто могли просто толкнуть и указать место ))) но тогда толпой не нападали, к моему счастью. я не борец, и не могла дать сдачу. очень понимаю чувства Айсулу, особенно если она говорит по русски с акцентом. )))удачи ей на Олимпиаде. а Ясмине наверно это урок – гонор свой засунуть куда дальше, и жить спокойно!

I believe [that Aisuluu was provoked into fighting]. It is evident from Yasmin's photo that she is capable of such a thing. Of course this is purely a personal opinion. This sort of thing is commonplace; city girls often try to bully newcomers [from the rural regions]. Twelve years ago I was an arrival [to the city] myself – big-boned and ugly))) and people also often pushed me and tried to bully me ))) thankfully, they did not gang up to do so. I am not a fighter [like Aisuluu], and I couldn't fight them back. I really understand Aisuluu's feelings, especially if she speaks Russian with an accent ))) Good luck to her at the Olympics. and Yasmin should probably take it as a lesson – [she should] do away with her arrogance and live in peace!

Tynybekova's case is thus complicated further by what she represents. Unspoiled by money and urban life, she is the Olympian ideal embodied – competing for the sake of competing in a sport her culture deems “unfeminine.” Moreover, her family hails from Naryn, an almost exclusively ethnic Kyrgyz “heartland” where people are said to speak the purest language and breathe the freshest air. In addition to being great copy for the international press, she could be good political capital, too.

Perhaps mindful of this, one netizen, beshtash, braved the wave of pro-Tynybekova sentiment to ask [ru] a cynical, yet pertinent question – how might Aisuluu's Olympic performances impact the outcome of the trial?:

Интересно, а что если ‘борчиха’ Айсулуу Тыныбекова станет олимпийским призером? Будут ли ее судить или великодушно простят?

I wonder what will happen if ‘female wrestler’ Aisuluu Tynybekova gets an Olympic medal. Will she be convicted or generously forgiven?

For the moment at least, Tynybekova's short-term fate is in her own burly arms. According to a calendar [ru] of  performances of Kyrgyz sportsmen and sportswomen compiled by Kloop.kg, Aisuluu will compete for the first time in London 2012 on August 8. The wrestler must then return to Kyrgyzstan by August 15, when her trial is scheduled to begin.

Below is a Radio Azzatyk video report, in Kyrgyz, about Aisuluu's Olympic bid:

N.B. Tynybekova is not the only female athlete from Central Asia aiming to beat her opponents into submission at London 2012. Twenty year-old Mavzuna Chorieva, from Tajikistan, will be representing Kyrgyzstan's southern neighbor in boxing. A BBC video report about Chorieva can be seen here.

This post is part of our special coverage London 2012 Olympics.

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

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