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A wide array of sports are played in Armenia. Football is the most popular sport in Armenia. Other popular sports are wrestling, weightlifting, judo, chess, and boxing. Armenia's mountainous terrain provides great opportunities for the practice of sports like skiing and rock climbing. Being a landlocked country, water sports can only be practiced on lakes, notably Lake Sevan. Competitively, Armenia has been very successful at chess, weightlifting, and wrestling at the international level. Armenia is also an active member of the international sports community, with full membership in the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), Federation of International Bandy (FIB), and International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). It also hosts the Pan-Armenian Games.
Prior to 1992, Armenians would participate in the Olympics representing the USSR. As part of the Soviet Union, Armenia was very successful, winning plenty of medals and helping the USSR win the medal standings at the Olympics on numerous occasions. The first medal won by an Armenian in modern Olympic history was by Hrant Shahinian (sometimes spelled as Grant Shaginian), who won two golds and two silvers in gymnastics at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. To highlight the level of success of Armenians in the Olympics, Shahinian was quoted as saying:
|“||Armenian sportsmen had to outdo their opponents by several notches for the shot at being accepted into any Soviet team. But those difficulties notwithstanding, 90 percent of Armenian athletes on Soviet Olympic teams came back with medals.||”|
Armenia contributed several more notable gymnasts to the powerful Soviet gymnastics team, including world and Olympic champions Albert Azarian, Eduard Azarian and Artur Akopyan.
Armenia first participated at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, under a unified CIS team, where it was very successful. Despite only having five athletes Armenians won 4 medals. Hrachya Petikyan won gold in sharp shooting, Israel Militosyan won gold in weightlifting, and in wrestling Mnatsakan Iskandaryan won gold and Alfred Ter-Mkrtychyan won silver. Since the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Armenia has participated as an independent nation.
Armenia participates in the Summer Olympic Games in boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, judo, gymnastics, track and field, diving, swimming, and sharp shooting. It also participates in the Winter Olympic Games in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, and figure skating.
Armenia used to play as part of the USSR national football team at the international level. Their most successful team was Yerevan's FC Ararat, which had claimed most of the Soviet championships in the 1970s, and had also gone to post victories against professional clubs like FC Bayern Munich in the Euro Cup. Armenia played as part of the USSR until 1992, when the Armenian national football team played their first official match, representing solely Armenia, against Moldova. The national team is controlled by the Football Federation of Armenia. The Armenian Premier League is the top football competition in Armenia. The league currently consists of eight teams, and relegates to the Armenian First League. Over the years, the league has evolved from a small competition, consisting of only eight teams to two separate divisions. Armenia also has many football venues, such as the Hrazdan Stadium and Hanrapetakan Stadium.
Armenia and the Armenian diaspora have produced many world class players, notably Youri Djorkaeff, Alain Boghossian, Andranik Eskandarian, Andranik Teymourian, Edgar Manucharyan, Nikita Simonyan,Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Yura Movsisyan, Hamlet Mkhitaryan among others.
Rugby union is a growing sport in Armenia. The Armenia national rugby union team has drawn much of its strength from the Armenian diaspora, and the fact that there are many Armenian rugby players in France. It has also drawn strength from the popularity of rugby in neighbouring Georgia.
Wrestling has been a successful sport in the Olympics for Armenia. At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Armen Nazaryan won the gold in the Men's Greco-Roman Flyweight (52 kg) category, and Armen Mkertchian won the silver in Men's Freestyle Paperweight (48 kg) category, securing Armenia's first two medals in its Olympic history.
Traditional Armenian wrestling is called kokh, and practiced in traditional garb; it was one of the influences included in the Soviet combat sport of sambo, which is also very popular.
Weightlifting has also been a successful sport for Armenia in the Olympics, with Arsen Melikyan winning the bronze medal in Men's middleweight (77 kg) category. In April 2007, the Armenian national team won the 2007 European Championships in Strasbourg, with 10 gold medals.
Before the establishment of an independent Armenia, Armenian weightlifters like Yurik Sarkisian, Oksen Mirzoyan and Yurik Vardanyan competed for the Soviet Union and were very successful. Vardanyan won the gold medal at the 1980 Summer Olympics, becoming the world's first weightlifter to achieve 400 point totals in the 82.5 kg weight category. He earned the title Honoured Master of Sports of the USSR in 1977, and was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1985. Yurik Vardanyan, Yurik Sarkisian and Oksen Mirzoyan set multiple world records during their distinguished careers.
Boxing is a popular sport in Armenia. The country has regularly sent competitors to the Olympics, but met with little success. Among the bright stars of boxing in the Armenian world are Khoren Gevor, Vanes Martirosyan, Vic "the Raging Bull" Darchinyan, Arthur Abraham, Karo Muratyan, Susi Kentikian and Hrachik Javakhyan.
Chess remains the most popular mind sport in Armenia. It is widely played in Armenia, and in the Armenian diaspora, where the Armenian schools encourage it as a curricular activity. Ethnic Armenian chess players have been very successful on the international chess scene. Notable chess players of Armenia include Tigran Petrosian, Levon Aronian, Rafael Vaganian and Vladimir Akopian. The legendary chess player Garry Kasparov is of Armenian descent. In 2006, the Armenian Chess Team of Levon Aronian, Vladimir Akopian, Gabriel Sargissian, Karen Asrian, Artashes Minasian, and Smbat Lputian won the Chess Olympiad in Turin. Two years later, Armenia successfully defended their Olympiad title with a second consecutive win in Dresden, the team being made up of Levon Aronian, Vladimir Akopian, Gabriel Sargissian, Tigran L. Petrosian and Artashes Minasian.
Armenia won the World Chess Championship in 2011, against the top ten teams of the world, including Russia and China.
Other sports played in Armenia are ice hockey, played internationally by the Armenian national ice hockey team, basketball (Armenian basketball), and tennis, where certain members of the Armenian diaspora like Andre Agassi and David Nalbandian have excelled. According to news published at rusbandy.ru, Armenia planned to participate in the World Bandy Championship for the first time in 2011.
Homenetmen and AGBU are the two biggest organizations that are devoted to athletics among Armenians. They, notably Homenetmen, have opened chapters all across the globe, wherever an Armenian community is present. Homenetmen organizes the Pan-Homenetmen Games each year, when the organization's members gather in a host city to play friendly matches against each other in various sports such as football, basketball, athletics, ice hockey, and volleyball.
The government of Armenia budgets about $2.8 million annually for sports, and gives it to the National Committee of Physical Education and Sports, the body that determines which programs should benefit from the funds.
Due to the lack of success lately on the international level, in recent years, Armenia has rebuilt 16 Soviet-era sports schools and furnished them with new equipment for a total cost of $1.9 million. The rebuilding of the regional schools was financed by the Armenian government. About $9.3 million has been invested in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor to improve the winter sports infrastructure, because of dismal performances at recent winter sports events. In 2005, a cycling center was opened in Yerevan, with the aim of helping produce world class Armenian cyclists. The government has also promised a cash reward of $700,000 to Armenians who win a gold medal at the Olympics.