Turkmen Merdan Atayev off to a winning start at the Central Asian Short Course Swimming Tournament
Rio 2016 Olympics flagbearer Merdan Atayev, 22, gave host Turkmenistan a good reason to celebrate after winning the country’s first gold medal at the Central Asian Short Course Swimming Tournament in Ashgabat on Wednesday.
The charismatic swimmer touched home first in his specialty, the 100m Backstroke, finishing with a new national record time of 54.89.
“I was well prepared to beat the previous mark and I feel proud I offer my country a gold medal. It was a way to express my gratitude for the honour they gave me last year to carry the flag at the Rio Olympic Games.
“I am sure I can further progress. Our President has provided us with excellent facilities. You may only benefit by training and competing in an arena like this.
“My next targets are the Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku and of course the World Championships in Budapest.”
Atayev, who will return tomorrow for the 50m Backstroke, also ran the first leg in the 4x50m Medley Relay and helped Turkmenistan finish second in 1:45.60, behind the Iranian quartet who won gold with a time of 1:44.06.
Turkmenistan’s other Olympian Darya Semyonova narrowly missed a victorious race in the 50m Breaststroke, trailing by a mere 0.26 hundreds Kyrgyzstan’s Kristina Panasenko, who finished first in 34.63. It was her country’s second gold of the day following Stanislav Karnaukhov’s triumph in the 100m Freestyle with a time of 50.34.
Semyonova was thrilled with the fan’s support in the full-to-capacity Ashgabat Olympic Complex Aquatics Centre:
“Having all these people by my side gave me additional energy to try my best. I am very happy I gave them an extra reason to cheer for,” said Semyonova, who will only turn 15 next May.
The most decorated athlete of day one though was Kazakhstan’s Diana Zlobina, winner in both the 100m Freestyle (57.85) and 100m Backstroke (1:07.16).
“I feel overwhelmed. It was my goal to bag both medals, but you are never sure until it happens. I love the facilities, and the crowd was very supportive.”
Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan won three golds apiece, while Turkmenistan captured five medals: one gold; three silver and one bronze.
Competition resumes on Thursday at 11am with heats in four events. The finals’ session will follow at 5pm, with nine more gold medals at stake.
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