ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Turkmenistan lauded its first Olympic medal winner at a lavish ceremony on Saturday where she was showered with gifts.
Weightlifter Polina Guryeva, 21, lifted a total 217 kilograms in the 59-kilogram category to win silver at the Tokyo Games. It was the first Olympic medal for the gas-rich Central Asian country since it won independence in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Turkmenistan’s authoritarian president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who is a fan of sports, has presented Guryeva with an apartment, a luxury sports utility vehicle and $50,000 in cash.
Berdymukhamedov’s son, Serdar, who was recently promoted to deputy prime minister in charge of economic and financial issues, handed over the gifts to the weightlifter during the ceremony in the capital of Ashgabat.
He read the president’s address, saying that Guryeva’s medal helped “increase glory, prestige and authority of the sovereign homeland” and was a “source of immense pride for the entire people.”
The Olympic winner, speaking before a large audience of athletes and government officials, said that she dedicated her medal “to the Turkmen people and the country’s president in honor of the 30th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence.”
The ceremony ended with women in national costumes showering Guryeva’s new vehicle with flour, in line with a traditional belief that it helps provide longevity, and burnt a herb called harmala to spook evil spirits.
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