Greco-Roman wrestler Artur Aleksanian won in the 98-kg final at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, on August 16 to bring the first Olympic gold medal to Armenia in 20 years.
The 24-year-old native of Gyumri defeated a Cuban opponent, Yasmany Daniel Lugo Cabrera, 3-0 to earn an Olympic title, which is only second in the history of Armenia’s participation in Olympic Games as an independent nation.
The country’s only other Olympic gold was achieved by another Greco-Roman wrestler Armen Nazarian at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, USA.
Aleksanian, a two-time reigning world champion, raised eyebrows at the awards ceremony by wearing a shirt featuring a portrait of an Armenian soldier who was killed during fighting with neighboring Azerbaijan in April.
(Olympic guidelines prohibit athletes from making overtly political gestures during the Games.)
“I am happy to win the first gold medal for Armenia after a 20-year interval,” Aleksanian said afterwards as quoted by the press service of the National Olympic Committee of Armenia.
“I dedicate my victory to the Armenian soldiers who defend the borders and all those who fell in the war,” added the fair-haired athlete affectionately dubbed “Polar Bear” by his fans.
Another Armenian Greco-Roman wrestler, Mihran Harutiunian, fell short of a gold medal in a disputed 66-kg final bout, bringing a third silver medal to Armenia at the current Games.
Weightlifters Simon Martirosian and Gor Minasian earlier won silver medals in men’s 105 and +105 kg weight divisions.
As of August 16, Armenia is 36th is the Olympics medal table led by the United States (28 gold, 28 silver and 28 bronze medals).
By contrast, four years ago, at the Olympic Games in London, Armenian athletes won only one silver and two bronze medals.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, who has been in Brazil to support the country’s Olympic athletes, acknowledged during an August 13 meeting with them that they often have to compete against representatives of larger and stronger sporting nations, which he said makes Armenian victories “even more so valuable”. At the same time, the head of state implied that small nations like Armenia are particularly sensitive in terms of both achievements and setbacks in sports.
“You have a lot of fans, but your first fans are the citizens of Armenia, your coaches, the Olympic Committee… The most important thing is that you can fully demonstrate your skills,” Sarkisian said, according to his press office.
Video: Fans in Gyumri celebrate wrestler Artur Aleksanian’s victory: