Sporting excellence is in Kazakhstan’s DNA — the nomadic lifestyle, vast steppes and harsh climate have shaped its people to be strong physically and mentally.
From setting Olympic records to producing world-renowned athletes, the country’s zest for sports has helped unite its people and cement its reputation in the global sporting arena.
Here are five sports that have captured the hearts of the nation.
Tracing its roots to as early as 1933, when the Russian Empire pushed for the opening of boxing classes across the country, the combat sport has become Kazakhstan’s claim to fame at the Olympics.
In fact, since 1996, the nation’s boxers have won at least one gold medal at every Olympic Games, racking up a tally of nearly 22 men’s and women’s medals.
The sport has also produced the most famous athlete in Kazakhstan — Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin.
In a phenomenal career that spans across 14 years, the 38-year-old has only drawn once and lost once across 41 professional fights.
Kazakhstan’s football scene has come a long way since it joined the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in April 2002.
In 2015, FC Astana — one of the country’s most decorated clubs — made history by becoming the first Kazakh club to reach the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.
Despite finishing at the bottom of Group C, the team remained unbeaten across all three of its home fixtures, earning well-fought away draws against European heavyweights like Atletico Madrid, Benfica and Galatasaray.
One of the perks of sharing landlocked borders with Russia in the North and China in the Southeast are scenic, meandering roads that make ideal conditions for cycling.
No other athlete has done more for the sport than cycling legend Aleksandr Vinokurov.
Some of his notable achievements over a 24-year career include two bronze medals at the World Championships, the title at the 2006 Vuelta a Espana road race and the designation of “Most Combative Rider” at the 2003 Tour de France.
Today, the 46-year-old paves the way for a new generation of cyclists as general manager of the country’s national cycling team, the Astana Pro Tour Team.
4. Ice hockey
With its long, cold winters, it is no surprise that ice hockey has a strong following in Kazakhstan. Built in 2015, the state-of-the-art Barys Arena ice hockey stadium is a testament to the country’s endearing love for the sport, with its 12,000 capacity seating and multifunctional courts.
The face of Kazakhstan’s ice hockey aspirations is 26-year-old Bulbul Kartanbay, who became the first Kazakh athlete to play in the American? National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) in 2019 when she joined the Metropolitan Riveters.
Having made her senior team debut at age 18 and competed in five World Championships, Kartanbay continues to live up to her reputation as Kazakhstan’s queen of the rink.
Interest in rugby is gaining momentum in Kazakhstan, thanks to living legends like Anastassiya Khamova.
Apart from taking part in three Women’s Rugby World cups with the Kazakhstan National Women Rugby team, she was also part of the historic team that convinced the International Olympic Committee in October 2009 to recognise rugby as a sport in the Olympics.
Now 40, she continues to develop rugby in her country and to recruit more girls to take up the sport that she describes as combining “running, wrestling, football, handball all together”.