Profiles of South Caucasus Countries Participating in the 04 Athens

Profiles of South Caucasus Countries Participating in the 2004 Athens
August 16, 2004

Armenia – ARM

Area: 11,920 sq miles
Population: 3,326,448
Capital: Yerevan
Language(s): Armenian, Russian
Summer Olympic Debut: 1996

The smallest of the former Soviet Republics, Armenia is in extreme
southeastern Europe, landlocked by Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the
east, Iran to the south and Turkey to the west. Armenia declared its
independence in September 1991 and became an independent state later that
year when the USSR disbanded.

The last recorded champion of the ancient Olympics was Prince Varastades,
who won the boxing competition at the 291st Olympic Games (approx. 388 A.D.)
before becoming king of Armenia. In modern times, Armenia represented the
Soviet Union through the 1988 Games and then the Unified Team in 1992. The
International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognized Armenia as a member in
1993, and 32 athletes competed for the nation in 1996.

Armenian Olympians of note include: Igor Ter-Ovanesyan, the long jump bronze
medalist in 1960 and 1964, who, upon witnessing Bob Beamon’s 29 foot, 2 1/2
inch leap at the 1968 Games, claimed: “Compared to this jump, we are as
children”; Albert Azaryan, a three-time gymnastics gold medalist (1956 men’s
team, 1956 rings, 1960 rings); and modern penthathlete Igor Novikov, who won
two golds (1956 and 1964 men’s team) and two silvers (1960 men’s team and
1964 individual). In 1996, Armen Nazaryan won the nation’s first (and only)
gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling, while compatriot Armen Lazarian took a
silver in freestyle. The only Armenian medallist in 2000 was Arsen Melikyan,
who won bronze in the 77kg/170 lbs weightlifting competition.

A former wrestling power, Armenia has struggled to fund its program in
recent years, which has resulted in several wrestlers leaving to compete for
other nations. The best hope for a wrestling medal is 2001 Greco-Roman world
champion Vaginar Galustyan (66kg/145 1/2 lbs). Also watch Mahmed Agayev
(84kg/185 lbs) in men’s freestyle. In addition, several Armenian
weightlifters and boxers could contend for medals.

Azerbaijan – AZE

Area: 34,640 sq miles
Population: 7,830,764
Capital: Baku
Language(s): Azerbaijani, Russian, Armenian
Summer Olympic Debut: 1996

Oil-rich Azerbaijan is located in extreme southeastern Europe, bordered to
the east by the Caspian Sea, to the south by Iran, to the west by Armenia
and to the north by Georgia and Russia. A former Soviet republic, Azerbaijan
declared its independence in August 1991 and became an independent state
when the USSR disbanded later that year.

This will be the third independent Olympic appearance for Azerbaijan, which
represented the USSR through 1988 and the Unified Team in 1992.

One of the more successful Azerbaijani Olympians was Inna Ryskal, who won
four medals (two gold, two silver) as a member of the Soviet women’s
volleyball team from 1964 to 1976. In 1992, gymnast Valeri Belenki won a
bronze medal in the men’s individual all-around and a gold in the team
all-around as a member of the Unified Team. Freestyle wrestler Namik
Abdulayev won his independent nation’s first medal – a silver – in 1996;
four years later, shooter Zemfira Meftakhetdinova won Azerbaijan’s first
gold, in women’s skeet. Abdulayev added another gold medal, and Vugar
Alekperov won a middleweight boxing bronze.

Abdulayev is again a wrestling medal contender, along with brother, Arif,
who won a surprise world title in 2003. Several boxers and weightlifters
also have a shot at medals. A fencing medal in women’s team sabre is another

Georgia – GEO

Area: 27,880 sq miles
Population: 4,934,413
Capital: T’bilisi
Language(s): Georgian, Russian, Armenian, Azeri
Summer Olympic Debut: 1996

A former Soviet Republic, Georgia is located in extreme southeastern Europe
on the eastern shore of the Black Sea and shares borders with Russia,
Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Separated from Russia by the main range of
the Caucus Mountains, it declared independence in April 1991, eight months
before the Soviet Union disbanded.

Between 1952 and 1992, Georgia provided the Soviet Union/Unified Team with
some of its best wrestlers and judokas. Georgians won more judo medals for
the former Soviet Union than any other republic. Independently, Georgia has
won eight Olympic medals, all bronze (including six in Sydney).

Georgia-born triple jumper Viktor Saneyev contributed four medals to the
Soviet Union, including three consecutive golds from 1968-1976 (plus a
silver in 1980). In freestyle wrestling, Levan Tediashvili won back-to-back
Olympic crowns for the Soviet Union in 1972 and 1976, while 1988 gold
medalist David Gobedzhishvili (130kg/286 lbs) was American legend Bruce
Baumgartner’s primary rival for much of the 1980s and early ’90s. Judoka
David Khakhaleishvili, a Georgian representing the Unified Team, took gold
in the men’s heavyweight division in 1992.

Georgia’s best gold medal hopes for Athens are in wrestling. Manuchari
Kvirkvelia won the 2003 world title in the Greco-Roman 66kg (145 1/2 lbs)
division; Eldari Kurtanidze was the gold medalist at the 2003 World
Championships in the freestyle 96kg (211 1/2 lbs) class. Kurtanidze was one
of Georgia’s six bronze medalists in Sydney.