Getting to know… Kazakhstan

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This weekend Astana, Kazakhstan became the centre of the speed skating universe, playing host to the ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships.

The Canadian contingent included Laurent Dubreuil, Gilmore Junio, Jamie Gregg, Heather McLean, Marsha Hudey and Jessica Gregg.

The Beatles Monument in Kok-Tobe park, Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The Beatles monument in Kok-Tobe park, Almaty, Kazakhstan. (Photo source)

Now, perhaps you know that Kazakhstan is bidding to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Almaty, the country’s largest city. But what do you really know about the country? If your information comes solely from Borat, you’re missing a lot.

The national anthem doesn’t actually include lyrics about exporting potassium and inventing toffee. In reality, it sounds like this:

How embarrassing then when the Borat version was mistakenly played for a Kazakh gold medal-winning shooter at an event in Kuwait in March 2012.

Kazakhstan became independent of the Soviet Union on December 16, 1991 and Astana became the capital in 1997 when the country’s first and still only President Nursultan Nazarbayev moved it from Almaty. At the time, there wasn’t much there (and there still isn’t much surrounding it), but the city now has a very modern skyline with buildings that look like they came straight out of science fiction.

It’s one of the reasons CNN called it “the world’s weirdest capital city” in 2012.

With an area of 2,724,900 sq km, Kazakhstan is the world’s ninth largest country. Within that is 6000 sq km that until 2050 is leased to Russia and home to the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Since NASA ceased space shuttle operations, this is the launch location for astronauts headed to the International Space Station, including Canadian Chris Hadfield who left earth and returned aboard a Soyuz in Kazakhstan.

Astana and Almaty shared hosting duties of the 2011 Asian Winter Games. Almaty was an applicant city for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games but was not one of the three cities included in the final vote.

Kazakh Olympians have competed under their own flag since Lillehammer 1994. The country won its first Olympic medals at those same Games thanks to cross-country skier Vladimir Smirnov who earned a gold and two silvers.

Denis Ten (left) shares a Sochi medal podium with Canada's Patrick Chan (right).

Denis Ten (left) shares a Sochi medals podium with Canada’s Patrick Chan (right).

Kazakhstan has a grand total of seven Winter Olympic medals, the most recent being the bronze by figure skater Denis Ten at Sochi 2014 when he shared the podium with Patrick Chan. Ten will be one of the top title contenders at the world championships later in March.

Most of Kazakhstan’s Olympic success has come in a couple of combat sports: boxing (17 medals) and wrestling (14 medals).

There have been a few notable Kazakh hockey players, including former NHLer Nik Antropov. But the country is quite good at another ice sport – bandy – which is essentially hockey played with a ball on a rink the size of a soccer field. Kazakhstan has been the world bronze medallist the last three years.

Anjelika Reznik, second from left, representing Canada at the Guadalajara 2011 Pan American Games.

Anjelika Reznik, second from left, representing Canada at the Guadalajara 2011 Pan American Games.

Looking for a Canadian tie to Kazakhstan? How about the rhythmic gymnastics twins Anjelika and Victoria Reznik who were born there but will be part of Team Canada at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games. Anjelika was also member of the Canadian team at London 2012.