Stories and Culture

Get Your Sports Fix

Two of the most revered sports in Gagauzia (and, from what I’ve heard, all over Moldova) are the close contact sports: wrestling and boxing. Not too long ago, I was invited to attend a boxing tournament in Cadir Lunga, another Gagauz village about 30 minutes from my home. And when I talk boxing, I don’t just mean the sport – the philosophy amongst the Comrat practitioners is that this brand is a martial art. I hitched a ride with my dear French friend, a visiting EVS volunteer and two trainers (whose boys took to the ring that day) from Comrat.

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We were invited to the event by the father of a friend of Miras Moldova, who coaches at Comrat’s Regional Sports School.

Sherali Turgunov, Coach of Comrat Boxing

Comrat’s boxing wouldn’t be without a chance run-in several decades ago in Uzbekistan. As is tradition in this kinesthetic scene, we’ll begin by honoring the legendary boxing champion Sidney Jackson, a founder of the sport’s Central Asian iteration: http://www.uzbekjourneys.com/2016/01/sidney-jackson-american-boxer-Tashkent.html.Sidney’s students expanded boxing through the whole country and, eventually, abroad.

In July 1953, a young man named Bazarnov Vladimir Konstantinovich was strolling through the city center of Tashkent. He happened upon a ring, where two men moved fluidly, locked in a duo’s dance – but these men were trying to punch each other.  Vladimir paused, and something catalyzed. This moment led to another, and another, where he encountered this beautiful sport – and eventually, under the guidance of the aforementioned Sidney Jackson, he became a champion. Throughout his career, Bazarnov attained the title of “Champion” 7 times in the 57 kg weight category of the “National Championship” with a boxing classification level “B” under the USSR (мастер спорта СССР).      

When Vladimir ended his career as a professional boxer, he moved to the small town Aktash in the province of Samarkand to forge ahead as a professional coach. This was the 70s, when it was common for young Uzbek men to become involved in boxing – which is how Sherali Turgunov, now a coach of Comrat boxing, discovered his passion.

Sherali Turgunov was a successful boxing student and won many class “B” tournaments in Uzbekistan.  Observing his student’s progress, Vladimir recognized that his Sherali also demonstrated the fledgling signs of coaching skills. The coach assigned Sherali practical tasks one-by-one, supplementing them with stories from his own experience. And reflecting on the experience, Sherali knew that the blessing of master to student had transpired naturally – so that he, too, was able to hone his gift.

Unfortunately, his practice was interrupted during the 80s when Sherali turned 18 – and, as was compulsory at that time, he served in the military for two years. Upon his return to Uzbekistan, he sought to continue his training, but his coach had moved to another city. Sherali then decided to take a new step, and began training in Shotokan, a school of Karate, which had only taken hold in his city that year.

Eventually, Sherali took to the road and traversed several countries in the USSR, picking up karate again in Chelyabinsk, Russia. Following his adventures, he returned to his home town to continue coaching, and to start a family.

In the early 2000’s, Sherali and the rest of the Turgunov family relocated to Comrat, Moldova. In 2004, after recognizing his prowess, managers from the Regional Sports School of Comrat, Gagauzia invited Sherali to work with them as boxing coach – and in May of that year, the Comrat boxing team was born.

All of his life, Sherali Turgunov’s greatest passion has been to motivate youngsters, and help them develop the character to overcome difficulties, be healthy, sportive and confident through the meditation of boxing. And his three sons are no exception – they, too, share the sport with youth and friends. As far as the family motto goes:

Boxing is not a fight, and not just sport – it’s lifestyle!

Competitors attended from all over Moldova, even as far away as Tiraspol in Transnistria. Some representatives came from Comrat, some from Chisinau, some from Cadir Lunga.

And the majority of the event’s attendees were men. At the start, the onlookers struck me as oddly quiet compared to the glorified matches I’m used to from American television. I heard the sharp encouragement of coaches at times, sure, but the crowd seemed more invested in the fights (or small talk amongst friends).

The boys, still boys, were impressive – such strategy at such a young age. I watched a gangly youth dance around the ring, seemingly awkward, as his shorter and more compact opponent slid sideways in short neat curves. But was it a farce? The gangly youth loosened up after the first round, and his longer reach proved a great advantage over the shorter hard-hitter.punchBy the third round, the opponent in red was ducking, dodging and panting; his right hook had relocated from high-flung shots at the face of his opponent to jabs at his stomach, compensating for his smaller size and lack of energy. The awkward opponent in blue had by then revealed his proficiency, smoothly snaking around the boy in red. Though I wouldn’t have judged it by the beginning of the fight, the boy in blue took the blue.

You know, it’s not just boys who want to box these days…

In September 2015, a young, motivated woman – merely 16 – decided to become a boxer of the highest order, and strove to champion. Manaolache Mihaela is from the small city of Cimislia, approximately 30 kilometers from Comrat. Her father, who is raising his children alone, encouraged Manaolache and her brother Georgii to enroll in Comrat’s Regional Sports School – how could they not strive to attain their goals?

Manaolache has participated in several International Tournaments, and in August 2016, she took the Bronze medal at the National Youth Boxing Championship in Romania. The young woman has been an encouragement to her peers, demonstrating the possibility of living one’s dreams – and continues to bring new victories to Comrat’s new generation of boxers.

But when the older opponents entered the ring, they didn’t adorn the protective helmets of the younger boxers.

Should I regret my impression that the man with the tattoos, heavily muscled and grimacing, had the air of a thug? I had heard this boxing thing was a meditation, of sorts – and this fellow warped that impression right quick. But then again, I remember that time I talked metaphysics with one of my tattoo artists…

The atmosphere revved from that earlier respectful calm to a full drive frenzy when a local, and older, competitor took his turn at brawling. The onlookers chanted, sending their spirits with the boxer’s name a prayer. They cheered, they whistled… “Давай, Давай, давай!

And a surprise, an unfortunate one… the home-player, a man from Cadir Lunga buoyed by the cheers of support, did not win. But I was impressed with the local sportsmanship. Only a few boos peppered the players, the crowd largely cheering with appreciation for the foreign opponent’s victory.pairAt times, audience members would chime in with advice. “Hey, watch it, that guy comes in from the left!” And the older participants know to acknowledge the help – a curt nod signifies understanding.

History of Boxing in Comrat

When the boxing team first began meeting in May 2004, the teenagers involved would practice two times per day, ten trainings per week. However, the team didn’t have its own gym, and they spent each session, regardless of the season, in Comrat’s outdoor stadium. Eventually, they began to share gym spaces all over the town, and in 2011 they finally gained their own space to practice.

Because the Regional Sports School is a boarding school, students come to study from all over Moldova, and the boxing team is equally diverse.

Team members participate and represent in the Schoolboys, Juniors, Youth, and Amateur boxing categories in both the National and International Championships. The team’s first challenge arose in 2005 when they began participating in the Amateur National Boxing Championships – the students struggled to compete with the older opponents, sometimes as much at 10 years, who had at least 5-10 years of experience in the sport.

However, the team has also seen victory. Since the program’s inception, competitors from Comrat in each age category have won between 2-5 medals (Gold, Silver and Bronze) in the National Championship each year. In 2006, the team took two Golds from the Junior National Championship, in 2007 they won 5th place in the European Junior Boxing Championship, stole the Silver medal at the 2007 European Students Boxing Cup and took the Bronze at the European Students Boxing Championship in 2011.

Students from Comrat’s team have also participated in World Boxing Championships, European Boxing Championships, and International Boxing Tournaments classes A, B and C. And of course, they’re still dreaming – next, it will be the Olympics!

Impressive, this sport. And it’s not too hard to find out more, with Comrat’s Regional Sports School just down the pike from Chisinau, only an hour and a half by rutiera…img_4520If you’re interested in learning about wrestling, another of Moldova’s favorite sports, check out our Miras Moldova report here: http://miras.md/new/e/index.php?newsid=195

*Here’s a huge shout-out to Marat for providing me with information about his father “the boxing coach” as well as the history of boxing in Comrat, and giving me permission to take creative liberties with his text.

 

Categories: Stories and Culture

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