The American team that played a brutal version of polo at the World Nomad Games does not expect the sport to get picked up by the Olympics any time soon.
“We use a dead goat,” said Scott A. Zimmerman, a team co-captain.
The game of kok-boru, with its headless goat carcass, was the main attraction at the weeklong international sports competition held this month in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan.
Other highlights included bone tossing, hunting with eagles and 17 types of wrestling, including bare-chested horseback wrestling, where the weaker competitor often clings desperately to the animal’s head as spectators roar in anticipation of him hitting the dirt.
The organizers hope to resurrect nomadic traditions, especially those of Central Asia, whose cultures were pushed toward extinction by decades of Soviet collectivization and then globalization.
While many top-flight athletes competed, qualifying for an event was easy: Basically anybody who signed up online could play. The bulk of the Czech Republic delegation, for example, was a group of male friends who fished around for an easy sport.
They discovered ordo, or bone tossing, which involves eight players using a chunk of cow bone to dislodge 2-inch pieces of sheep bone from a large dirt circle. (It’s a lot harder than it sounds.) They could not, however, find the right bone bits in the Czech Republic with which to practice.
So how did they learn to play? They just thought about it, mostly, admitted the Czechs, who went home without any medals.
The outdoor events took place in two stunning venues — a hippodrome built for the Games on a high-altitude saline lake surrounded by the jagged peaks of the Tian Shan mountain range, and the vast meadows of a sweeping mountain gorge, where some 1,000 yurts were erected.
With archers clopping by on horses, and the smoky aroma of grilling meat, the meadow site evoked a nomadic encampment from a bygone era.
After 72 years spent under Communist domination — and more than two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union — Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors are still trying to define themselves.
“We want to revive our historical identity,” said Kanat Amankulov, Kyrgyzstan’s minister for youth and sports.
The Games also seek to create a kind of Brand Kyrgyzstan, attracting tourists to an impoverished, landlocked, predominantly Muslim nation of about 6 million people.
The emphasis on nomadic traditions casts Kyrgyzstan as part of a grander Turkic civilization, and perhaps equally important, helps counter the growing strength here of the intolerant Wahhabi strain of Islam imported by clerics educated in Saudi Arabia.