(ATR) European Games wrestlers fight for medals at historic Minsk Sports Palace, all focused on the challenge and opponents in front of them, most unaware of the building’s storied 53-year history.
Minsk Sports Palace opened in May 1966 (ATR)
The Sports Palace is all dressed up for the European Games, looking sparkling clean with state-of-the art facilities for wrestling, giant video screens and adorned with colorful Minsk 2019 branding. The classic Soviet-era exterior architecture is the only indication of the building's age.
Communist party meetings, international hockey tournaments, boxing, weightlifting, gymnastics, fencing, futsal, rock concerts, the Alexander Medved Freestyle Wrestling Grand Prix and the 1975 World Wrestling Championships have all been held at the multi-sport complex.
United World Wrestling Europe president Tzeno Tzenov expressed his approval of the Minsk Sports Arena, although he admits “communications availabilities should be improved for media” and what he sees now at these European Games “cannot be compared with previous years”.
“The arena has been renovated fully in the last six months and at the moment covers all of UWW’s requirements,” Tzenov, UWW-Europe president since 1995, tells Around the Rings
. “I am not aware of the exact cost spent for it, but when I observe everything in the arena, the expenses must have been very high.
“It is compact and has everything needed for a championship of an international high-ranked event,” said Tzenov, also a former president of the Bulgarian Wrestling Federation.
A Russian and Bulgarian wrestle in the venerable Minsk Sports Palace on Wednesday night. (ATR)
The atmosphere was electric in the 3,300-capacity arena on Wednesday, the first night that European Games medals in freestyle wrestling were awarded.
Serbian 57kg silver medalist Steven Micic complimented the Minsk 2019 wrestling organizers.
“It’s nice – they’ve put on a good show,” said Micic, who lives and trains in the U.S. “Everything has run smooth.”
“There’s a lot of history, it’s exciting stuff with the best of the best competing here,” he said. “Good for Minsk.”
“Minsk is a wrestling town and almost all competitions have been held here over the decades,” said Serbian head coach Devan Jovicic. “It is a very good venue and Belarus has a good sports infrastructure.”
The Sports Palace remains one of the oldest sports facilities in Minsk. Construction began in September 1963 and took three years to complete. It opened in May 1966. A major reconstruction took place between 2001 and 2004.
“It is a very beautiful arena – I could never tell that it is so old,” said German wrestler Kubilay Cakici.
Russia claimed three gold medals and Azerbaijan one on the evening program, with additional impressive performances by Belarusian, Serbian, Georgian and Ukrainian wrestlers.
“The crowd was supportive and appreciative which gave me adrenaline to win,” said Russian Zaurbek Sidakov, gold medalist in the 74kg class.
Ali Shabanau of Belarus with his silver medal (ATR)
Belarusian Ali Shabanau grappled to a silver medal, giving the hometown fans something to cheer, despite a tough loss to his Russian opponent.
“The spectators were amazing, but I made a mistake and could only win silver,” Shabanau said. “I felt lots of adrenaline and wanted to win too much, but lost.”
Tzenov said he was “satisfied” with the outcome of the evening.
“I think that all finals were highly technical and emotional,” said the UWW-Europe president.
However, he believes the prestige of the event needs to be elevated.
“For the European Games to have success in the future, they should be accepted as European Championships.
“The gold medal winners should have the right to an Olympic quota,” the Bulgarian wrestling boss added.
Tzenov also addressed the sports rich history at the famed venue, noting that two European Championships were held following the 1975 world championships.
“Belarus has a very good team so they are experts in the sport’s field,” he said. “I underline the fact that what I see now at the European Games cannot be compared to previous years.”
San Marino Wrestles to Bronze
San Marino bronze medalist Amine (in blue) celebrates with members of his NOC (ATR)
The biggest surprise of the night was a gritty bronze medal performance by 86kg class San Marino wrestler Myles Nazem Amine. Amine, 22, posed for photos with joyous San Marino NOC officials in the spacious, yet often chaotic mixed zone interview area.
“To win one of the first medals in wrestling for San Marino, it’s just a very cool and rewarding experience,” Amine said, shortly after his match. “For all this committee has done – it is the start of something really great."
The San Marino wrestler gave high marks to the spectators and venue, which was also used for the sport of sambo.
“Look at the fan base here – just a very clean arena, the spotlights, when you see something like this, you know wrestling is in a good place,” Amine said.
Men’s and women’s freestyle wrestling continues at the Sports Palace through Thursday, before the program shifts to Greco-Roman for the final three days of the European Games.
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Minsk
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