In a year filled with sports triumphs, Kazakhstan has broadened its horizons beyond the familiar domains of boxing, tennis, and chess, celebrating successes in emerging fields like futsal and bodybuilding.
From Team Kazakhstan's excellent performance in the Euro 2024 qualifiers to hosting the inaugural Togyzkumalak competition, join QazMonitor for a countdown of the top eight achievements and a handful of honorable mentions – explore the complete list below.
Undefeated Kazakh mixed martial arts fighter Shavkat Rakhmonov (18-0-0) secured his eighteenth professional victory at UFC 296 in Las Vegas, defeating American fighter Stephen Thompson (17-7-1) with a second-round chokehold. This marked Rakhmonov's second victory in 2023, adding to his earlier win against Geoff Neal (15-5-0) at UFC 285 in March. With this latest win over Thompson, Shavkat swiftly ascended to the top 3 ranking in the UFC welterweight category.
Additionally, MMA fighter Matilda Bachurina clinched gold in the U-20 category at the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) World Championships in Serbia, defeating opponents from Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Germany.
In October, Kazakh boxer Janibek Alimkhanuly (15-0, 10 KOs) ascended to the top of The Ring's middleweight ratings, succeeding Gennadiy Golovkin, who relinquished all his championship belts. Alimkhanuly further solidified his standing by unifying the WBO and IBF middleweight world boxing titles with a sixth-round victory over Vincenzo Gualtieri (21-1-1, 7 KOs) in Rosenberg, Texas.
Meanwhile, Jr. Lightweight Sultan Zaurbek (16-0, 12 KOs) maintained an unblemished record and secured the 10th position in the WBO rankings in March 2023.
Kazakh bodybuilder Daryn Shirbayev made history as the first Kazakh athlete to qualify for Mr. Olympia in the Classic Physique Pro category, securing his spot by triumphing at the IFBB PRO Qualifier in Astana. Earlier he achieved an impressive third place at the Legion Sports Fest, a renowned international bodybuilding tournament in Reno, Nevada, competing against formidable opponents like Terrence Ruffin and Logan Franklin.
Alongside Shirbayev's success, another Kazakh athlete, Aisha Kaipova, showcased her excellence at the Legion Sports Fest, earning 3rd place in the Bikini category.
Kazakhstan earned a spot in the 2024 FIFA Futsal World Cup by defeating the Netherlands in a qualifying elite round match, marking their fifth consecutive victory in Group A. With goals from Birzhan Orazov and Douglas Junior, this win ensured Kazakhstan's third consecutive participation in the World Cup and their fourth overall. The tournament, hosting 24 teams, is set to take place next year, from September 6 to October 14, in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Originally slated for 2022, the Hangzhou Asian Games were rescheduled to 2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, taking place in September-October of the current year.
Kazakhstan concluded the Hangzhou Asian Games by clinching the 11th position overall (and fifth in total medal count), securing a total of 80 medals, including 10 gold, 22 silver, and 48 bronze. Notably excelling in disciplines such as shooting, karate, jiu-jitsu, cycling, and canoeing, the country secured three gold medals in both shooting and karate, along with two in cycling, and one each in jiu-jitsu and canoeing.
Kazakh Dota 2 pros Alimzhan 'watson' Islambekov and Aybek 'TA2000' Tokayev have made history as the first Kazakh players to qualify for The International 2023, securing their spots through the Western Europe Qualifier. Team Entity, featuring Alimzhan Islambekov, claimed the first-place position in the upper bracket, while team PSG Quest (also known as Quest Esports) with Aybek Tokayev secured the second spot, marking a significant achievement for Kazakh esports.
Another noteworthy event was the first-ever World Togyzkumalak Championship for schoolchildren, where Kazakhstan's team secured first place overall with eight gold medals among over 200 players from 17 countries competing in the 'Rapid' and 'Blitz' disciplines.
In a remarkable year for chess, the renowned champion Bibisara Assaubayeva not only successfully defended her Women's World Blitz Champion title in late December 2022 but also claimed second place at the FIDE Women's Grand Prix in New Delhi.
Meanwhile, Alisher Suleymenov, a 23-year-old grandmaster from Pavlodar, caused a stir in the chess community by defeating the reigning World Champion, Magnus Carlsen, in the second round of the Qatar Masters Open.
Kazakhstan's national men's football team delivered a stellar performance in the Euro 2024 qualifiers, securing victories against formidable opponents, including Northern Ireland, San Marino, and the latest clash against Finland. Despite a setback against Slovenia, hope still lingers as Team Kazakhstan eyes qualification through the Nations League playoffs in March 2024, with a semifinal clash against Greece and the possibility of meeting Georgia or Luxembourg in the final.
In tennis highlights, Elena Rybakina triumphed at the Italy Open and secured second place at the Australia Open, reaching World No.4, while Alexander Bublik won the Halle Open and clinched his third ATP Tour title at the European Open.
While the two tennis stars undeniably had a remarkable year, other Kazakh players also had their moments to shine: Aruzhan Sagandykova secured her first singles title in Tunisia, Zhibek Kulambayeva partnered with Justina Mikulskyte to win the W40 Skopje 2023 Tennis Tournament in North Macedonia, Yulia Putintseva reached her first WTA doubles final in Osaka, and the pairing of Anna Danilina and Harri Heliovaara clinched the US Open mixed doubles title.