SPORTS


Azerbaijan are tops as Solidarity Games end

Baku, May 22, AZERTAC

The fourth Islamic Solidarity Games ended in Baku on Monday with hosts Azerbaijan topping the medals table after a relentless 11-day long battle with neighbours Turkey.

Oddly enough, the Azeri team came up empty handed in terms of gold medals on the final day of action, the only time that had happened during the Games.

But on the back of a superb Sunday which culminated in football gold, Azerbaijan were all but assured of top spot with a 75-68 lead and just 11 golds to be disputed on Monday.

Turkey edged closer by bagging both tennis singles titles and adding one from the wushu martial arts, but that still left them four golds adrift at 75-71.

The Turks had the consolation of ending up with the highest overall - gold, silver and bronze - medal haul with 195 to 162.

Iran had a strong finish to the Games, lifting eight of the last 11 golds, six of those coming in wushu and they consolidated third place in the medals list with 39 golds and 98 in total.

They were simply unstoppable in the wushu sanda events, underlining their supremacy by winning all of their bouts and storming to six of seven gold medals available.

Azerbaijan had to settle for three silvers at the Baku Sports Hall after losing all of their finals to the implacable Iranians.

The only gold to escape the Iranian stranglehold came in the 48kg division, in which there was no Iranian fighter. Turkey's Mehmet Demirci took advantage to dominate Kyrgyzstan's Turatbek Sulaimankul in the final.

Iran also won both gold medals in the table tennis, the final gold medals of the games to be decided.

The men's outfit of Alamian brothers Noshad and Nima, as well as Afshin Noroozi, got the better of Turkey 3-1, after the women's trio had claimed a gripping 3-1 victory over hosts Azerbaijan in the first final.

It was all Turkey in the tennis as Altug Celikbilek and Ayla Aksu clinched golds in the singles finals to complete a clean sweep for their country having already won the two doubles and two team titles.

Celikbilek needed plenty of perseverance against compatriot Yuksel Anil, but he eventually wore his opponent down 6-4, 6-4 with consistent groundstrokes and a booming serve.

Aksu thrashed Berfu Cengiz 6-3, 6-2 in the women's final - another all-Turkish duel - just one day after the duo won doubles gold together.

It was a relatively quiet end to competition following 11 days of intense action which left many claiming that these had been the best Islamic Solidarity Games yet to be staged.

Hosts Azerbaijan, like Saudi Arabia (2005) and Indonesia (2013) before them, were worthy champions, but Turkey can look forward with genuine optimism.

The next Solidarity Games will be held in Istanbul in 2021.

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