YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenian athletes winning gold medals in the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing will each be rewarded with more than $760,000 in cash and other bonuses, Minister for Sport and Youth Affairs Armen Grigorian confirmed on Wednesday.
Grigorian said the bulk of the reward, $700,000, would be provided by Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman heading Armenia’s National Olympic Committee (NOCA). The remaining 20 million drams ($66,000) would be paid from the state budget, he said.
Tsarukian promised the prize shortly after taking over the NOCA following Armenia’s worst-ever performance in the last Olympic Games held in Athens in 2004. He made clear that the payment would be made in cash and in the form of a luxury apartment in one of his residential buildings in central Yerevan.
None of the 18 Armenian athletes won any medals at the Athens Olympics. The Tsarukian-led NOCA has since spent heavily on the reconstruction of the country’s outdated sport facilities in the hope of ensuring a more respectable performance at the Beijing games.
Armenia will be represented there by 25 athletes vying for medals in seven sports, including boxing, wrestling and weightlifting. Some of them have done well in recent European and world championships and are expected to be major contenders at Beijing.
“We have European champions and winners of world championship medals,” Grigorian told RFE/RL. “So we have serious ambitions to win medals at the 2008 Olympic Games.”
An Armenian government delegation led by President Serzh Sarkisian will fly to China to attend the Olympics opening ceremony on Friday.