Uzbekistan's young ice hockey stars chase their dreams as the sport enjoys a surge in popularity.
Uzbekistan is witnessing a resurgence of interest in ice hockey, establishing it as one of the country's most popular sports once again.
Our correspondent, Galina Polonskaya, recently attended a training session for Uzbekistan's national youth ice hockey team, where she met determined young athletes who have their sights set on the very top.
Jasurbek Rustamkhonov, who captains the youth side, is emerging as one of Uzbekistan's promising hockey talents.
Last year, he led his team to victory bagging an impressive 14 goals at the Asian and Oceanian U18 Championship in Mongolia. Jasurbek told Galina that quick thinking is a crucial quality for a hockey player.
“You need to have a strong character to step onto the ice," he told Focus. "Hockey is a fast-paced and dynamic sport where quick decision-making and actions are essential."
The team's coach, Abdumadjid Nasirov, a former hockey player himself, witnessed a decline in interest in the sport during the 1990s, as rinks closed and the national team disbanded.
But in 2018, the Federation of Hockey was established and he returned to the ice to train young talents. Abdumadjid is confident that he is working with future champions.
"I hope that in the future, all of them will continue to perform well in the national senior team of Uzbekistan," he revealed.
Uzbekistan's Hockey Federation has set ambitious targets for its national teams. Speaking to Focus, Bakhtiyor Fazilov, the president of the Hockey Federation of Uzbekistan, said "The goal of the Hockey Federation is to spread this sport throughout all of Uzbekistan, every region, every city. We will achieve this goal. And most importantly, we aim to participate in the 2025 World Hockey Championship."
Matches at the modern Humo Arena in Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, now attract crowds of passionate fans. It provides a forum for players like Jasurbek, who says he aspires to showcase authentic Uzbek hockey to the world.
"Hockey is just developing in Uzbekistan and we will show everyone what real Uzbek hockey is," he concluded.