Shocking aggression. How Georgia "fought" Russia at the 2008 Olympics, making history in world sport.
15 years ago, on August 8, 2008, the Summer Olympic Games began in Beijing, to which the Russian Federation was allowed to participate, despite the fact that the Russians attacked Georgia during the night. The Georgians could not withdraw from the tournament, as they were threatened with disqualification from the International Olympic Committee if they did so.
Having invaded the territory of an independent state on the eve of the start of the Chinese Olympics, Russian propaganda in its own style claimed that it was "protecting" the inhabitants of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia from the Georgian offensive. They say that the Russian Federation intervened only after Tbilisi launched a military operation in the Tskhinvali region.
However, there are numerous confirmations that the Kremlin's regular military attacked foreign territory through the Roki tunnel as early as August 7. And on the night of August 8, Georgian villages were shelled from South Ossetia, provoking Georgia to start the conflict that Moscow had long planned.
Georgian athletes who had traveled to the 2008 Olympics were in shock after the events of August 8. Their relatives were under attack at home and they could do nothing. After some deliberation, the Georgians planned to organize a protest in Beijing, despite possible sanctions from the IOC.
"Our Olympians are going to hold a protest action at the Olympics to draw the world's attention to what is happening in Georgia today. According to the statutes of the Olympic Committee, this will entail disqualification of the athletes," Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said at the time.
Then there was information that Georgian athletes were ready to give up participation in the Games and leave China to be with their families. And some Olympians immediately after returning home were intending to enroll in the reserves and, if necessary, go to serve.
However, at the request of Saakashvili, the team of 35 athletes still remained in Beijing. The head of the Wrestling Federation Kakha Betsadze said: "It was decided to leave the Olympic Games as a sign of protest against Russia's actions towards Georgia. Half an hour ago, President Mikheil Saakashvili asked us to stay and fight for the honor of the country."
"They are all nervous, trying to concentrate on the competition, but it is hard for them," admitted Giorgi Chanishvili, representative of the Georgian team at the 2008 Olympics.
Georgia's decision to continue competing was also confirmed by IOC Director of Public Relations Giselle Davies: "Last night the leaders of the Georgian delegation were seriously discussing whether they should continue their participation in the Olympic Games. However, this morning we received official confirmation that their country will continue to compete in Beijing".
Only Davis forgot to specify that if the Georgian team left the Games, it would face sanctions from the IOC and potentially a suspension from the Games from 8 to 12 years.
At the same time, Davis added for some reason that the Russian team had also confirmed its continued participation in the Olympics, although it had not made any statements regarding a possible departure. And she did not even think of leaving Beijing, because in the Kremlin, as in the USSR at one time, they expected as many awards as possible to confirm the greatness and strength of the Russian Federation.
"We can only welcome this decision, which is fully in line with Olympic principles. It is absolutely fair to the athletes who have worked hard for these Games and may not get a second chance like this again. Naturally, there will be many times at the Olympics when representatives of Russia and Georgia will have to meet each other. But we have no reason to fear conflict situations," said the IOC representative.
That is, despite Russia's violation of the Olympic Charter and bloody invasion of a foreign country, the IOC not only did not punish Russia, but also made sure that the athletes of the aggressor country would not go anywhere from Beijing.
Perhaps just 15 years ago, the Kremlin became convinced that they could attack their neighbors with impunity and twice attacked other people's territories under the cover of the Olympics or Paralympics: in 2014, during the competition in Sochi, they occupied Crimea, and before the Paralympics in Beijing-2022, they made a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. And the IOC is still considering allowing "neutral" Russians to compete at the Olympic Games in 2024.
A REAL FEAT. 35 Georgian athletes in 11 sports participated in the Olympic Games in China. At the closing of the competition they won 6 medals - 3 gold and 3 bronze. Georgia took 27th place in the team standings in terms of the total number of awards.
"It is especially valuable for us that at the Beijing Olympics our wrestlers showed their toughness: war broke out in Georgia and the members of the national team were depressed, and yet three of our athletes took gold medals: Manuchar Kvirkvelia (Greco-Roman wrestling), Irakli Tsirekidze (judo) and Revaz Mindorashvili (freestyle wrestling). It was a real feat," Georgian NOC representative Kakhaber Beridze later noted in a comment to caucasianknot.
"When we learned that the war started in Tskhinvali, which spread to the whole of Georgia, the condition of the guys was depressed. It was especially hard for those who performed on the first day. I saw that some of the guys were burned out, but those who fought showed their character," recalled Otar Tatishvili, the senior Greco-Roman wrestling coach.
Freestyle wrestler Otar Tushishvili, who became the bronze medalist of the 2008 Olympics in the weight up to 66 kg, did not fly to the opening of the Games, as he competed only on August 20. When the war broke out, the pupil of Nugzar Skhireli was in Borjomi for training camp. On the way to Tbilisi airport Otar stopped by home in Gori, which was subjected to massive bombardment by the Russians several times.
On August 9 alone, according to the Georgian side, 60 civilians of Gori were killed, residential buildings were destroyed and cars with people in them were burned down after Russian air raids that allegedly hit military facilities.
"It was dangerous, but I drove home in my car. Seeing the burned houses, my heart squeezed and I cried, what should I do? To be calm in Beijing, the next day I took my mother, brother and nephews to Tbilisi," Tushishvili recalled in a conversation with lelo.ge.
But at the Games he was able to pull himself together and win a bronze medal, while the silver medalist in the same weight was Ukrainian Andriy Stadnik. Otar's father stayed in the city captured by the Russians and learned about his son's medal thanks to mobile communication, as the TV tower was destroyed.
"That day I was standing at the beginning of our street when I was told that Otari had won the bronze medal. Imagine how happy I was. I knelt down and thanked God. At that time, an APC braked in front of me. "I do not recommend you to kneel down," the Russian soldier called out to me." "My son became an Olympic medalist, I don't care about your pain at all," I replied...," the wrestler's father recalled.
"GOLD" DAY. After the hardest days for the members of the Georgian delegation, August 13 was the time of big victories. Greco-Roman wrestler Manuchar Kvirkvelia and judoka Irakli Tsirekidze became Olympic champions about half an hour apart.
"The trials of my country overshadowed the joy of being an Olympic champion," said Kvirkvelia, the Greco-Roman wrestling gold medalist.
"Standing on the pedestal, my only thought was whether I would be able to provide any help to the war-tortured victims. When I called Tbilisi, I learned about the situation in Georgia from my wife. I was very happy with the ceasefire agreement," the athlete added.
Also, judoka Irakli Tsirekidze, who competed in the category up to 90 kg, brought "gold" to Georgia. In the semifinals, he defeated Ivan Pershin of Russia with an ippon hold, and when the upset Russian continued to lie down, he raised his arms victoriously and then pointed to his back, where his country was written.
"In such a situation, I would do this to all my opponents, although I understand the political significance of my fight, because at that time the Russians were bombing my homeland. And with this victory I made the shocked civilians happy...", - Tsirekidze told.
TOOK DOWN A RUSSIAN. The fight among freestyle wrestlers in the category up to 84 kg turned out to be very principled. In the semifinals the reigning European and world champion of 2007 Russian Georgy Ketoev and the world champion of 2005 and vice-champion of the continent Revaz Mindorashvili from Georgia met. The Russian representative was considered the favorite, but having made the decisive throw, the Georgian won, who eventually became the first Olympic champion in freestyle wrestling in the history of independent Georgia.
"We were at the last training camp in Borjomi when Russia started bombing corners of Georgia. We had to stop training early. It was impossible to fly. We reached Tbilisi after a 12-hour grueling journey. The next morning we flew to Beijing via Kiev, where we received terrible information from the media. And I left my wife, two-year-old son, sister and mother in Tbilisi," Revaz recalled for lelo.ge.
PEOPLE DON'T WANT WAR. But while some Georgian athletes were ready to return home and fight, there were also those who at that time, to all appearances, were still living with the Soviet past and the notion of "sports beyond politics".
The living legend of shooting Nino Salukvadze, who will compete at her 10th Olympics in Paris-2024, was the first Georgian medalist of the 2008 Games and at the awarding ceremony she hugged a Russian woman, which was immediately reported by Russian propaganda.
The decision to keep the Georgian athletes at the Games was made just hours before Salukvadze's August 10 performance in the 10-meter air pistol shooting: "The Georgian athletes stayed up until 2 a.m. We could only think about our homeland."
Nino admitted that she and the team were shocked by Russia's aggression. It was hard to go to the competition when there was almost no information about family members. However, this did not affect her friendship with the Russian representatives.
In the final, Salukvadze, an Olympic champion back in 1988 as part of the USSR team, took third place, passing Russia's Natalia Paderina for second. And then hugged her at the awards ceremony, which the IOC took as a sign of reconciliation between the countries.
"I took third place. When we were called to present the award, the fans greeted me with applause, while Natalia Paderina was applauded only by Russian fans. This fact is a vivid proof of the sympathy of the whole world for Georgia. When we approached the pedestal, I turned to Natalia and told her that our friendship is above all wars...," Nino told lelo.ge.
"Ordinary people never want war. I hope that intelligence will win in the heads of our and your politicians and peace will come. And if the politicians don't, then normal people should negotiate. And I hugged Paderina from the bottom of my heart, politics should not affect friendship between people, sports, especially shooting," Nino was quoted by Russian media when her compatriots were dying at the hands of Russians a thousand kilometers away from Beijing.
Earlier OBOZREVATEL reported that the star of the national team of Georgia supported the protests. In the Russian Federation, he was called the 3rd sort and demanded to thank Russia.