North Caucasian Athletes Put in Strong Performance at London Olympics

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 158

Member of Russian Federation's Olympic team in London, Jamal Otarsultanov (Source:

At the conclusion of the London Olympics, Russians suddenly realized that the Russian national team had a non-Russian face. Olympic sports were much revered in the Soviet Union and are highly regarded in contemporary Russia. They have often been seen as a battleground with the United States and China.

North Caucasians were the first to win gold medals for the Russian team in London. The overall representation of North Caucasians at the London Olympics became a powerful argument in the hands of those who reproach Russian society for its anti-Caucasian sentiment.

Twenty-seven non-ethnic-Russian Dagestani athletes were at the London Olympics. The Dagestanis represented not only the Russian team, but also several other countries, including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan. They received four gold and five bronze medals. Mansur Isaev won the first gold for Russia – in men’s lightweight judo. A Dagestani, Daniyal Gajiev, brought bronze for Kazakhstan’s national team in Greco-Roman wrestling. Freestyle wrestler Sharif Sharifov won gold for Azerbaijan in the 84 kilogram weight category (, August 13, 2012). The performance of the North Caucasian athletes was such that some of them ended up competing against each other under different countries’ flags. For example, Yusup Abdusalamov represented Tajikistan and Gajimurad Nurmagomedov represented Armenia when they faced off in London. Both wrestlers originally came from the village of Ansalta in Dagestan’s Botlikh district. Few people in Russia know that one of the most renowned Russian athletes, Elena Isinbaeva, is half Tabasaran; the Tabasarans are a small ethnic group in southern Dagestan.

Ossetian athletes performed just as successfully as the Dagestanis, with nine athletes from North Ossetia bringing home Olympic medals for Russia. Ossetian athletes were represented in Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling, weightlifting, track and field trials, fencing and equestrian events. The Ossetian athletes won Olympic medals in practically all disciplines ( Ossetian wrestler Artur Taimazov stood out because he became a three-time Olympic champion, replicating the success of the Chechen athlete Buvaisar Saitiev. Over 20 Ossetian athletes took part in the London Olympics: 10 Ossetian athletes were on the Russian national team, while others were on the national teams of Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belorussia, Kazakhstan, Canada and Moldova (

Chechnya was represented by five athletes, two of whom became Olympic medalists. Freestyle wrestler Jamal Otarsultanov won gold, weightlifter Apti Aukhadov won silver, while the three remaining Chechen athletes did not make it to the finals.

There were also athletes of South Caucasian origin on the Russian Olympic team, such as David Airapetyan, a boxer of Armenian origin from Stavropol region who won a bronze medal; Arsen Galstyan, a judo wrestler of Armenian origin from Adygea who won gold. Krasnodar athletes won eight Olympic medals, while Stavropol athletes won two silver and two bronze medals at the London Olympics. Originally from Abkhazia, Denis Tsargush won bronze for the Russian national team.

Thus the North Caucasian athletes won nearly 20 Olympic medals, including five gold medals, for Russia. Practically all of the power sports were Caucasian-dominated: athletes from Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia won eight medals in the Olympics. The dominance of the North Caucasians in the power sports is evident and long-term. Russian athletes also were successful in various disciplines, but predominantly in the track and field trials.

For the North Caucasian mountaineers, such sports as wrestling and weightlifting are part of their national culture. It is therefore not surprising that North Caucasians are often present in various sport clubs and on teams in Moscow, Siberia and the Far East region.

The North Caucasian athletes in London defended Russia’s prestige on the international stage. The Russian public proudly called the North Caucasian Olympic athletes Russians, yet once the Olympic Games were over, the country went back to being ashamed of the North Caucasians. The slogan “No More Feeding the Caucasus” remains a profound example of the widespread attitude toward North Caucasians in Russian society.  

Against this backdrop, the governor of Krasnodar region, Alexander Tkachyov, made astatement about preventing a massive influx of the North Caucasians into the region. Tkachyov proposed creating Cossack armed groups numbering up to 1,000 people ( It was the first time such a high-ranking Russian official made such an open outburst against the migration of North Caucasians. Two weeks after the openly chauvinistic statement by Tkachyov there has been no coherent reaction either from Moscow or the North Caucasian authorities. Even Ramzan Kadyrov made a very cautious statement against Tkachyov’s idea (

At the same time, this governor who dislikes Caucasians promised to allot an apartment for an Olympic champion of Armenian origin, Arsen Galstyan ( Tkachyov’s statement against all North Caucasians could not have been simply an impulsive outburst by the governor. He would not have made the statement unless he was sure the Kremlin supported him. The governor of Krasnodar region, where the next Olympics are set to take place in 2014, is considered one of the few influential regional chiefs who enjoys the personal support of Vladimir Putin ( This also indicates that the establishment of Cossack armed groups in Krasnodar might be an initial stage before it is replicated in other regions of Russia.

It appears that Russian society has not yet made up its mind whether or not it wants the Caucasians and migrants to remain with them in the future. If some federal level politicians envision Russia’s future without some parts of the North Caucasus, then Tkachyov must represent that view. At an initial stage, Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia might be those unwanted parts of the North Caucasus. Otherwise, it is hard to explain how Moscow plans to strengthen the state when the 6.5 million mountaineers of the North Caucasus are regarded as a threat to the country’s security and Russian society openly demands part of the Caucasus be separated from Russia.

Tkachyov’s initiative to form Cossack armed groups will have consequences. In response, the mountaineers will demand their own armed groups. In the beginning, this will lead to a massive outflow of the remaining ethnic Russian population in the republics of the North Caucasus and a subsequent rise of tensions between the Cossacks and the mountaineers in the region.