In the spring of 1206, legend has it, the Mongol steppe saw the largest-ever gathering of nomadic tribes. Featuring athletic competitions and festivities, the weeks-long event marked the unification of warring Mongol tribes under the leadership of Genghis Khan, the legendary Mongol conqueror.
The Mongol Empire is now history, but the idea of using nomad’s sports to unify a nation has lived on in a newly independent state of Central Asia that is searching for an identity.
With generous government support, Kyrgyzstan hosted the first World Nomadic Games September 10-14, an event “dedicated to show the history of nomad nations, their traditions, lifestyles and culture,” according to the organizers. Over 400 athletes from 19 countries gathered in a resort on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul to compete in wresting, archery, Kok Boru (a game where mounted riders face off over a dead goat), Ordo (a Kyrgyz board game) and Kyz Kumai (chasing girls on horseback).
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Alisher Khamidov is a writer based in southern Kyrgyzstan.