Irish duo in elite company as Kazakhs set to punch above their weight in Almaty
A nation expects as a total of eight boxers from the host nation are through to the semi-finals
Jason Quigley and Joe Ward relaxing in their team hotel ahead of their semi-final bouts today. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho Jason Quigley and Joe Ward relaxing in their team hotel ahead of their semi-final bouts today. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.
Holywood would have it with farm animals on the flight into the country’s second city. So it may come as a crushing disappointment but no donkeys in the streets, not a shiny, ill-fitting suit to be seen. The people do seem a little deflated that they were once the capital until Astana was handed the armband in 1997.
In that vein the thought of Letterkenny being given Dublin’s captain’s role has its attractions and if Donegal’s Jason Quigley wins his World Championships semi-final today we may have a movement. Moate too will rise to Joe Ward.
But there have been some unscripted vignettes; the five-bus caravan trip with all the trappings up to the Medeo Gorge, Almaty’s Wicklow Way. A police escort, the threadbare buses creaking up the mountain, the numbers stuck to our shirts that instantly fell off and the large car park, where we stopped and roamed towards our end point, an outdoor speed skating rink. Wonder what the Cameroon boxers thought.
“This is where our town’s people come and make photo,” we were told. “The air is clean and the sunshine.”
On the way through the city the government buildings, Republic Square and a nondescript block housing an educational facility were marked as places of interest as the bus groaned and squealed through the traffic. We left in rush hour and changed bus at the venue for the World Championships, The Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports. There were 20 buses. We didn’t know which one to get. We looked at each other, shuffled and wondered . . .
We followed as ordered and climbed on board. The PA didn’t work so only the people in the front could hear the guide. At the back six female student volunteers were having their photos taken with the tourists, Kenny appearing to be in all of them. A discreet queue was forming beside his seat.
These tours of foreign cities the former light heavyweight has seen many times in his years accumulation two European bronze medals and Olympic silver. This week he has been on the other side of the ropes physically and metaphorically as an Irish Sports Council representative. He’s still a full-time athlete at heart and endearingly encourages less able members of the Irish media to go running with him in the mornings around a nearby park. His is a pace too hot for most and the five one-minute rounds of shadow boxing in the park, well some would rather eat the salty balls of chalk delicacy they serve in the Palestinian pub-cum-betting shop around from Hotel Kazzhol on the corner of Gogol Street.
Resources are well used and in the evening the imaginary ring on the grass and the jogging route around it becomes a patch for prostitutes and pimps, no different from Dublin.
Egan jets off to Entebbe, Uganda for a charity boxing event on Monday, a day after returning to Dublin – a 22-hour journey via Frankfurt. You need to be ripped for that.
But the winter is coming in Almaty. Soon the treacherous deep V-shaped drains that run along the roads outside the Kazakhstan Hotel, where the Irish boxing team are staying, will be full of the snow locals shovel from the pavements.
By December the temperatures will plummet to more than -30 degrees. But here nothing stops. The city, a sprawling grid-designed metropolis, cheerless in the former Soviet Bloc way, is a friendly population of mixed races. They seem like durable people living in a kind of frontier finance town. Like many cities, money is visible in the make of some cars and houses but does it drip down?. Well, 20 fags for €1.
They have a different concept of time and the bus will leave early or late to the boxing. But if they see you chasing the bus the driver will stop in the middle of the road, a thousand honking horns, screw them.
If you miss the last ride from the Palace of Sport you stand on the road with fingers in the air, the number representing how many need a lift The ‘freelance’ drivers stop and take you approximately to the hotel. Yes we do it. Yes, it could be foolish but the boxing tags are recognised and president since 1989, Nursultan Äbishuly Nazarbayev, arrives to the finals tomorrow. A nightmare for security as he’s well-loved with 95.55 per cent of the vote in the 2011 elections.
Kazakhstan has eight through to the semi-finals today, more than Russia, more than Cuba, more than the USA. Only western people cannot understand that fabulous number. Some call it crooked but here and throughout Africa and Asia it’s a way of life, the way things are, the natural flow. There is no derogatory term, no name. It just is. Almaty is not Dublin or Borat’s priceless freak. But today more than any city ever before, it could be kind to two Irish athletes.