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Kazakhs emerge as new Aussie Olympic foe
Steve Larkin
06:09 AEST Mon Aug 13 2012

When most Australians think Kazakhstan, they think Borat.

They may think oil, the black gold; but probably not Olympic gold.

But the London Games closed with Australia battling a new sporting rival - Kazakhstan.

The Kazakhs wanted Australia's top 10 seat on the medal table. And they almost got it.

Australia finished with seven gold medals, and so did the Kazakhs.

If not for a controversial boxing bout, Kazakhstan would have relegated the Aussies to 11th.

Light-heavyweight Adilbek Niyazymbetov was denied gold despite his fight with Russian Egor Mekhontcev ending in a tie - and a countback being unable to separate them.

The Russian was awarded the gold courtesy of the five judges' individual preference.

If Australia's sporting rivalry with Great Britain is about beating big brother, and New Zealand is the little brother to be put in his place, the Kazakhs are long-lost cousins.

We know they're out there. Just not sure where, and what they look like.

And we're not alone.

Even some Kazakhs don't know, pardonable given the background of some of their gold medallists in London.

Take weightlifting, for example.

Zulfia Chinshanlo won the women's 53kg weightlifting gold and Mayia Maneza triumphed in the 63kg class - both for Kazakhstan.

Doubts about their origins emerged when neither could freely converse in Kazakh, the official language in Kazakhstan, or Russian.

(Borat, the fictional movie character created by English comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, may not have told you, but Kazakhs competed for the Soviet Union from 1952 to 1988. Borat, who single mankini-edly lifted Kazakh tourism ten-fold, also may not have informed that oil-rich Kazakhstan, population 15.7 million, is in central Asia and Europe; the ninth largest country in the world; and the world's biggest producer of uranium).

But back to the weightlifters. They had good reason for the language barrier - they're actually from China but have been leased to Kazakhstan for five years.

China's news agency Xinhau blew the whistle, saying both weightlifters had changed their names and official place of birth.

According to Xinhua, Chinshanlo and Maneza were 'leased' to Kazakhstan for five years in a deal which expires next year, when they likely return to China.

According to China's state media, their journey is tangled in the byzantine workings of the Chinese Weightlifting Federation and involves a possible exchange of athletes for votes in an undisclosed international sporting body.

But Kazakhstan hit back.

"Their claims are nothing but jealousy," Aleksey Kryuchov, Kazakhstan's acting head of the Directorate of National Teams and Sports Reserves, was quoted by website vesti.kz as saying.

"They (the weightlifters) were living in China for some time ... they (China) let them go without any objections.

"Now after six years and after they have reached high results, somebody is having a greed attack.

"If we had taken them yesterday and they have won the medals today, it would have been a different story."

Chinshanlo wasn't keen to get involved in the spat at her victory media conference, unwilling to revisit her origins. She was too busy thinking about ice cream.

While saying she likes kazy - horse meat sausages, a traditional Kazakh cuisine - she really, really likes ice cream.

"I was working hard to loose weight and wasn't eating ice-cream," she complained.

So Kazakh coaches promised to buy her a kilo of ice cream to celebrate her win.

She will also get $US25,000, the reward Kazakhstan gives all its gold medal winning athletes - regardless of their true nationality.

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