In the midst of planning my next escapade, I came across this wonderful interview with one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, Akhmed Anarbaev.
Mr. Anarbaev was the first Kyrgyz Olympian, competing for the Soviet Union in swimming in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, specifically in the 400. He didn’t make the pedestal, but that didn’t stop him from another first in swimming.
I met Mr. Anarbaev in 2015 in Cholpon-Ata on lake Issyk Kul. Annually he hosts a swimming weekend, with indoor and outdoor events. He owns and runs a LCM pool on the shore of Issyk Kul, the only pool of that length in all of Kyrgyzstan. I met him after his indoor competition was over and asked if I could take part in the short (300m) open water swim later that day. He had no problem with that, and even introduced me to the other swimmers there, most of them also former members of the Soviet swim team in the ’60s and ’70s. Later that day I managed to talk 3/4 of my kids into swimming the competition with me. Along with dozens of other swimmers. All of whom were beat by Anarbaev, who at the time was 67. And in great shape.
This interview I just found, from 14 January 2018, sheds some light on the history of his Issyk Kul swims that I tried to gather back in 2015 with my so-so Russian.
His first Issyk Kul crossing, from Kyzyl-Suu in the south to Ananyevo on the north shore, 36 kilometers, he completed in 1982 in 11 hours (as exact as he gives). This is the route we call “historical” in the Lake Issyk Kul Swimming Federation. This I learned back in 2015, but what I didn’t know was that he swam it with someone else, some unnamed swimmer. (If I make it back to Issyk Kul this summer, I will have to ask him who the other swimmer is so I can update the crossing list.) Also, a little about his nutritional preparation for that crossing: He and the other swimmer split a can of stewed meat. In his own words, “It is good that we were escorted.”
Unbeknownst to me, he tried a solo crossing of the widest spot on the lake, from Tamga in the south to Cholpon-Ata in the north, a distance of about 65km. That crossing was unsuccessful. For this crossing he started at 7pm. He chose to start at that time because he wanted to swim in cold water at the beginning of the swim and to finish the swim in warm water after the sun had been up for 12+ hours. Unfortunately, his swim turned out quite different than planned, and frankly it is lucky he’s still alive. Strong winds, rain, lateral waves, his escort boat lost sight of him at one point for an hour twenty.
Even more strange was the second time the boat lost sight of Anarbaev. He kept swimming, but started to hear someone calling his name. He saw a boat on the waves so he swam up to it, but it wasn’t his boat. It was another from Balykchy, the village on the westernmost point of the lake! (Dear readers will remember this village as the home base for my crossing.) The crew of the boat thought they saw a dead body floating 200m away from them. Alas, the body was swimming. And the crew knew of only one person who could be swimming in the middle of Issyk Kul, so they started yelling “Akhmed! Akhmed!”
Anarbaev was lost a third time, and when he caught up, was forced to swim at the back of the boat. The boat only had one light in the stern so he decided to swim from that point so as to not get lost again. But swimming back there he was fighting against the currents of the propellers and started to breath in diesel exhaust. His breathing suffered, his chest muscles and abs got tight, and they finally pulled him out of the water, after only 5.5 hours. The doctor checked all his vitals and he was fine. (It is here that Anarbaev tells the interviewer that it didn’t matter that the doctor said he was okay, because “by the rules, at any point if you touch the boat, your swim is over and won’t be recognized.”)
There’s more to the interview, to include his philosophy on health, drinking and sport. Google translate doesn’t do too bad of a job (ignore all the he‘s and she‘s; Russian has grammatical gender), so if your Russian is lacking and you want to read the Google version of the interview, the translation is here.