Sport in Armenia
A wide array of sports are played in Armenia. Popular Sports in Armenia include football, basketball, volleyball and hockey. Further, the country sends athletes to the Olympics in boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, judo, gymnastics, track and field, diving, swimming and shooting. Armenia's mountainous terrain provides great opportunities for the practice of sports like skiing and rock climbing. Being a landlocked country, water sports can only be practiced on lakes, notably Lake Sevan. Competitively, Armenia has been very successful at chess, weightlifting, and wrestling at the international level. Armenia is also an active member of the international sports community, with full membership in the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), Federation of International Bandy (FIB), and International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). It also hosts the Pan-Armenian Games.
Olympics as part of the USSR
Prior to 1992, Armenians would participate in the Olympics representing the USSR. As part of the Soviet Union, Armenia was very successful, winning plenty of medals and helping the USSR win the medal standings at the Olympics on numerous occasions. The first medal won by an Armenian in modern Olympic history was by Hrant Shahinyan (sometimes spelled as Grant Shaginyan), who won two golds and two silvers in gymnastics at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. To highlight the level of success of Armenians in the Olympics, Shahinyan was quoted as saying:
Armenian sportsmen had to outdo their opponents by several notches for the shot at being accepted into any Soviet team. But those difficulties notwithstanding, 90 percent of Armenian athletes on Soviet Olympic teams came back with medals.
Olympics after Independence
Armenia first participated at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, under a unified CIS team, where it was very successful. Despite only having five athletes Armenians won 4 medals. Hrachya Petikyan won gold in sharp shooting, Israel Militosyan won gold in weightlifting, and in wrestling Mnatsakan Iskandaryan won gold and Alfred Ter-Mkrtychyan won silver. Since the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Armenia has participated as an independent nation.
Armenia participates in the Summer Olympic Games in boxing, fencing, wrestling, weightlifting, judo, gymnastics, track and field, diving, swimming, and sharp shooting. It also participates in the Winter Olympic Games in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, and figure skating.
Football is the most popular sport in Armenia. Armenia used to play as part of the USSR national football team at the international level. Their most successful team was Yerevan's FC Ararat, which had claimed Soviet championship in the 1973, and had also gone to post home victory against FC Bayern Munich in the 1974–75 European Cup. Armenia played as part of the USSR until 1992, when the Armenian national football team played their first official match, representing solely Armenia, against Moldova. The national team is controlled by the Football Federation of Armenia. The Armenian Premier League is the top football competition in Armenia. The league currently consists of eight teams, and relegates to the Armenian First League. Over the years, the league has evolved from a small competition, consisting of only eight teams to two separate divisions. Armenia also has many football venues, such as the Hrazdan Stadium and Vazgen Sargsyan Republican Stadium.
Nikita Simonyan was a member of the Olympic gold medal winning Soviet Union national football team at the 1956 Summer Olympics and a four-time Soviet Top League and two-time Soviet Cup winner playing for FC Spartak Moscow. Simonyan also became the Soviet Top League top goalscorer three times. He also holds the record for most league goals scored for Spartak Moscow at 133. After retiring from football, he became the head coach of Spartak and later became the manager of both Spartak and FC Ararat Yerevan. Both teams won the Soviet Top League under Simonyan's management.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the current Captain of the Armenian national football team and the team's star player. Mkhitaryan won the Armenian Premier League four times and the Armenian Supercup twice as a player for FC Pyunik. He has also been given the Armenian Footballer of the Year award nine times. As of 8 September 2019, Mkhitaryan is the top goalscorer of all time for the Armenian national team with 29 goals. Many other Armenian players have played in European domestic leagues such as Arthur Petrosyan, Sargis Hovsepyan, Roman Berezovsky, Edgar Manucharyan, Yura Movsisyan and many others.
Many Armenian diaspora footballers represented their country of birth, with the most notable players including Youri Djorkaeff and Alain Boghossian who were both part of the winning French team in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, Andranik Eskandarian and Andranik Teymourian of Iran, Alecko Eskandarian of the United States, Kevork Mardikian and Mardik Mardikian of Syria, Wartan Ghazarian and Hagob Donabedian of Lebanon, etc.
Chess remains the most popular mind sport in Armenia as well as among the most popular sports in general. It is widely played in Armenia, and in the Armenian diaspora, where the Armenian schools encourage it as a curricular activity. Ethnic Armenian chess players have been very successful on the international chess scene. Notable chess players of Armenia include Tigran Petrosian, Levon Aronian, Vladimir Akopian, Gabriel Sargissian, Sergei Movsesian and Rafael Vaganian. The legendary chess player Garry Kasparov is of Armenian descent.
Armenia has won the European Team Chess Championship in both the men (1999) and women (2003) sections. The 1999 men team was made up of Smbat Lputian, Artashes Minasian, Ashot Anastasian, Levon Aronian and Arshak Petrosian. The 2003 women team was made up of Elina Danielian, Lilit Mkrtchian and Nelly Aginian.
In 2006, the Armenian Chess Team of Levon Aronian, Vladimir Akopian, Gabriel Sargissian, Karen Asrian, Artashes Minasian, and Smbat Lputian won the Chess Olympiad in Turin. Two years later, Armenia successfully defended their Olympiad title with a second consecutive win in Dresden, the team being made up of Levon Aronian, Vladimir Akopian, Gabriel Sargissian, Tigran L. Petrosian and Artashes Minasian.
Armenia won the World Team Chess Championship in 2011, against the top ten teams of the world, including Russia and China. Members of the Armenian chess team were Levon Aronian, Sergei Movsesian, Vladimir Akopian, Gabriel Sargissian and Robert Hovhannisyan.
The Armenian Chess Team won the Olympiad title for a third time in 2012 at the Istanbul-hosted Chess Olympiad. The team consisted of Levon Aronian, Sergei Movsesian, Vladimir Akopian, Gabriel Sargissian and Tigran L. Petrosian.
Armenia currently ranks 5th on the all-time Chess Olympiad medal table despite only competing since 1992. The nation was also a contributing power to the still #1 ranked Soviet Union. Tigran Petrosian himself is still ranked #1 for the best individual results in the open section.
Despite the popularity of basketball in Armenia, the country's national team only recently made headlines internationally through winning the 2016 FIBA European Championship for Small Countries.
Armenia's best basketball players all play outside of the country, mostly in the United States and Russia.
The first ever season of the professional domestic basketball competition of Armenia known as Basketball League A was launched in October 2017 with 7 participating teams, representing the cities of Yerevan (4 teams), Gyumri, Artik and Stepanakert.
Wrestling has been a successful sport in the Olympics for Armenia. Half of the twelve Armenian Olympic medalists and were wrestlers. At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Armen Nazaryan won the gold in the Men's Greco-Roman Flyweight (52 kg) category, and Armen Mkrtchyan won the silver in Men's Freestyle Paperweight (48 kg) category, securing Armenia's first two medals in its modern Olympic history.
With Armenia's two gold medalists, Armen Nazaryan (1996) and Artur Aleksanyan (2016), and three silver medalists, Armen Mkrtchyan (1996), Tigran Martirosyan (2008), and Arsen Julfalakyan (2012), wrestling is Armenia's most successful Olympic sport. More than half of Armenia's Olympic medals have come from wrestling.
Armenia hosted the 2010 FILA Wrestling World Cup. The Armenian wrestling team came in third place overall and Armenian wrestlers individually won three of the seven gold medals.
Traditional Armenian wrestling is called kokh, and practiced in traditional garb; it was one of the influences included in the Soviet combat sport of sambo, which is also very popular.
Weightlifting has also been a successful sport for Armenia in the Olympics, with Arsen Melikyan winning the bronze medal in Men's middleweight (77 kg) category at the 2000 Summer Olympics, which was the independent Republic of Armenia's first Olympic medal in weightlifting. In April 2007, the Armenian national team won the 2007 European Championships in Strasbourg, with 10 gold medals. Nazik Avdalyan and Tigran Gevorg Martirosyan both became World Weightlifting Champions in 2009 and 2010, respectively.
Before the establishment of an independent Armenia, Armenian weightlifters like Yurik Sarkisyan, Oksen Mirzoyan and Yurik Vardanyan competed for the Soviet Union and were very successful. Vardanyan won the gold medal at the 1980 Summer Olympics, becoming the world's first weightlifter to achieve 400 point totals in the 82.5 kg weight category. He earned the title Honoured Master of Sports of the USSR in 1977, and was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1985. Yurik Vardanyan, Yurik Sarkisian and Oksen Mirzoyan set multiple world records during their distinguished careers.
Armenian boxers have had more success in professional boxing. Vic Darchinyan and Arthur Abraham have both won world titles in different weight divisions. Susi Kentikian has also won world titles in women's boxing. Khoren Gevor is a four-time world title challenger. Karapet Karapetyan was long time Netherlands Champion in kickboxing and came far in boxing but stopped to continue as a lawyer. Vanes Martirosyan and Karo Muratyan are both rising contenders.
Armenia has produced many Olympic champions in artistic gymnastics during the Soviet days, such as Hrant Shahinyan, Albert Azaryan and Eduard Azaryan. The success of the Armenian gymnasts in the Olympic competitions has greatly contributed in the popularity of the sport. Thus, many prominent competitors represent the country in the European and World championships, including Artur Davtyan and Harutyun Merdinyan.
The capital Yerevan has many state-owned schools of artistic gymnastics, including the Albert Azaryan School opened in 1964 and the Hrant Shahinyan School opened in 1965.
Futsal is very popular in Armenia. Many companies as well as universities have their own teams who participate in the Futsal League of Armenia. Currently, 8 teams take part in the Armenian futsal league, representing the cities of Yerevan, Gyumri, Vanadzor, Kapan and Alaverdi. The Mika Sports Arena of Yerevan is the home of the Armenia national futsal team.
Other growing sports
- The Armenian national ice hockey team is run by the Ice Hockey Federation of Armenia. They hosted the Division III, Group B tournament of the 2010 World Championships.
- In an attempt to promote figure skating and ice hockey in Armenia, the Irina Rodnina Figure Skating Centre was opened in Yerevan, in December 2015.
- Tennis is quite popular in Armenia. Sargis Sargsian is the best tennis player that represented the country in international level. He is a 3-time Olympian who won the 1997 Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in singles and the 2003 Citi Open and 2003 BRD Năstase Țiriac Trophy in doubles. Certain members of the Armenian diaspora like Andre Agassi, David Nalbandian and the Maleeva sisters have excelled in the sport.
- Rugby union in Armenia is among the growing sports. The Armenia national rugby union team has drawn much of its strength from the Armenian diaspora, and the fact that there are many Armenian rugby players in France. It has also drawn strength from the popularity of rugby in neighbouring Georgia.
- Skiing is also among the growing sports in Armenia. The mountainous nature of the country has allowed for the development of the sport, especially after the establishment of the Tsaghkadzor ski resort in 1986. In general, the skiing season in Armenia starts in mid-December and stretches well into March. There are ski resorts in Vanadzor and Jermuk as well.
- Field hockey is mainly popular in the town of Hrazdan. It is home to the only field hockey venue of Armenia, with a capacity of 1,500 seats. Hrazdan Hockey Club occasionally represents the country in several regional and international tournaments. The Soviet-Armenian player and 1980 Olympic bronze medalist Sos Hayrapetyan played for the club between 1988 and 1992.
- Windsurfing and kitesurfing are becoming popular in Armenia. It was first introduced by the initiative of the 2nd president of Armenia Robert Kocharyan, who founded the Yerevan Yacht Club at the end of the 1990s. The sport is being regulated by the Professional Windsurfing and Kitesurfing Federation of Armenia. The competitions regularly take place at the Yerevan Lake, Lyon Park of Yerevan and Lake Sevan.
- Equestrian sport in Armenia was founded in 1953 and is currently directed by the Federation of Equestrian sport of Armenia (FEA), globally recognized by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI). With the increasing interest towards the equestrian sport in Armenia, many equestrian centres were opened in Armenia, including the Hovik Hayrapetyan Equestrian Centre and Mirage equestrian centre in Yerevan, Ara and Aytsemnik equestrian centre in Aknalich (near Vagharshapat), and Ayrudzi horse-riding club in Ashtarak.
- Cycling as a sport is becoming popular among the young Armenian generation. The Yerevan Velodrome is an outdoor track cycling venue with international standard, opened in 2011 to replace the old venue of the Soviet days. Edgar Stepanyan of Armenia became champion of the scratch race in the 2015 junior UEC European Track Championships.
- Recently, MMA has gained massive popularity in Armenia, through the efforts of the Armfighting Professional Federation. It was founded in Yerevan in 2005 by Hayk Ghukasyan and currently runs several branches throughout the provinces of Armenia as well as Artsakh, with more than 2,000 athletes.
Homenetmen and AGBU are the two biggest organizations that are devoted to athletics among Armenians. They, notably Homenetmen, have opened chapters all across the globe, wherever an Armenian community is present. Homenetmen organizes the Pan-Homenetmen Games each year, when the organization's members gather in a host city to play friendly matches against each other in various sports such as football, basketball, athletics, ice hockey, and volleyball.
Modern rebuilding efforts
As of the 2016 state budget, the government of Armenia allocates around US$3.83 million annually for sports, and gives it to the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, the body that determines which programs should benefit from the funds.
Due to the lack of success lately on the international level, in recent years, Armenia has rebuilt 16 Soviet-era sports schools and furnished them with new equipment for a total cost of $1.9 million. The rebuilding of the regional schools was financed by the Armenian government. About $9.3 million has been invested in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor to improve the winter sports infrastructure, because of dismal performances at recent winter sports events. In 2005, a cycling center was opened in Yerevan, with the aim of helping produce world class Armenian cyclists. The government has also promised a cash reward of $700,000 to Armenians who win a gold medal at the Olympics. Rector of the Yerevan State Institute of Physical Culture Vahram Arakelian believes that Armenia will produce Olympic champions in 2016, because by that time “the work of new coaches and their influence on their trainees will be seen.”
- World info
- Last interview with Shahinian before death quote (Armenia Now).
- Բասկետբոլ. Մեկնարկում է Ա լիգայի կանոնավոր առաջնությունը
- (in French) Results of the 2007 European Weightlifting Championships
- Yerevan has an up-to-date figure skating and ice hockey centre
- The revival of filed hockey in Armenia
- "Международные турниры EURO 1983: 5 МИНУТ ДО ЗОЛОТА" (in Russian). ussr-fieldhockey-euro1983.blogspot.com. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
- АЙРОПЕТЯН СОС ДЕРЕНИКОВИЧ. sportufo.ru
- About the Windsurfing and Kitesurfing Federation of Armenia
- Windsurfing and kitesurfing competitions in Armenia
- Renco.it:Yerevan Velodrome
- Edgar Stepanyan track cycling
- Armfighting Professional Federation
- 2016 Government budget of Armenia
- Armenia Now
- Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs
- National Olympic Committee of Armenia
- Armenian Athletic Federation
- Armenia Basketball at Eurobasket.com
- Armenian Chess Federation
- Pan-Armenian Games
- BBC iPlayer - Armenia: the cleverest nation on earth
- Famous Armenian Sportspeople