A young Uyghur athlete is taking the world of international kickboxing by storm, having recently won four world championships competing for Kyrgyzstan.
Dubbed 'the girl with the iron fists,' Shahrizat Hallilova (registered in international competitions as Shakhriza Khalilova) has won several prestigious martial arts competitions, and competed in many more, including representing Kyrgyzstan in the 2017 World Games and the 2018 Asian Games.
The four-time world champion was born in Bishek, Kyrgyzstan's capital, in 1992. She received a degree in legal studies from Yusup Balasaghun Kyrgyz National University and is currently working professionally as a sports coach, she said in an interview with RFA's Uyghur service.
"I got into sports when I was only four years old, starting with sports dancing," she said.
"I started freestyle boxing and wrestling at age 12. My first competition was in a national taekwondo tournament, which I didn't win, but I placed third. It was at this time that I realized that freestyle martial arts was not something I wanted to continue pursuing and that becoming a champion is not automatic. It takes a long process of dedication and hard work to become a true champion."
Those early setbacks caused her to refocus in a different discipline -kickboxing- the sport in which Hallilova won her first world championship at the age of 20.
"The first time I became a World Champion was in a freestyle kickboxing championship in Anapa, Russia in 2012," she said. I also won two world championships at the kickboxing championships in Bangkok in 2016. I competed as both an amateur and a professional and won both. I won my third in Bangkok again in 2017 and most recently in 2018, I became world Muay Thai champion in a tournament featuring kickboxers from more than 80 countries," She said.
Kickboxing is a sport with many different styles and many governing organizations. As such, Hallilova's championships come in several different disciplines, and were awarded by different governing bodies that hold separate championship tournaments.
Her accolades also include two World Cup championships, a silver medal in hand-to-hand combat, a gold medal from the 2016 Kyrgyzstan Boxing Championship and the 2016 Best Athlete of the Kyrgyz Republic award.
Hallilova also expressed her desire to compete in the Olympic Games. She has represented Kyrgyzstan in IOC-sanctioned events, but kickboxing is currently not an Olympic sport and will not be contested in Tokyo in 2020. She was, however listed as a boxer for the 2018 Asian Games, and could potentially compete in 2020 in that discipline.
Uyghurs prominent in Kyrgyz sports scene
Uyghurs living in Kyrgyzstan have contributed greatly to the country's athletics, especially on the world stage, according to Abdurehim Hapizov, the deputy editor-in-chief of Ittipaq, a small newspaper catering to Kyrgyzstan's Uyghur community.
"There have been lots of Uyghur athletes in recent years competing in international games both in Asia and in the rest of the world, and they've really been racking up the awards," Hapizov said.
"For example, 18-year-old Kamil Sabitov has won several awards for Kyrgyzstan in equestrian events. He's a little young but very mature for his age. Then there's 17-year-old Hasan Bawrunov, who is an Asian fencing champion. We also have World Taekwondo Champion Akbar Heytahunov, and 21-year-old Halmurat Ibrahimov, the Kyrgyz Greco-Roman wrestling champion. Devran Sadiqov, meanwhile won the Greco-Roman championship in Yekaterinburg, Russia," he said.
Uyghur sportsmanship in Kyrgyzstan has a long history. Some of the more prominent Uyghur athletes came to fame in the 1960s or later. These include footballer Yusup Musayev, Japanese-style wrestlers Sawur Emetov and Abduweli Ismayilov, legendary Greco-Roman wrestling brothers Perhat and Shohret Hoshurov and sports master Sadiqjan Yusuphojayev. These world-class sportsmen represent not only the country of Kyrgyzstan, but also the Uyghur people as a whole.
Hapizov also mentioned the importance of sports clubs and trainers. "The Eagle Sport Club in Bishkek has been instrumental in training world-class athletes for decades," he said.
"Perhat Hoshurov [who runs the gym] has really shined as a trainer. He is a true master of his sport and he trains all ethnic groups. Last year he received a Presidential Certificate of Recognition for his contribution in producing high-quality Kyrgyz sportsmen."
According to census data, in 2009 there were approximately 49,000 Uyghurs living in Kyrgyzstan which at that time had a total population of 5.3 million.
Reported by Oyghan and Nabijan Tursun for RFA's Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Eugene Whong.
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