Sporting Chances: Etseri, Svaneti


Rejoice, children! You now have a full THREE MONTHS off school, a seemingly endless period of bliss, as Ray Bradbury once put it, more or less! Enjoy!

To kick things off on the right note, our village recently celebrated with a day-long multi-village invitational men’s sports competition, briefly interrupted by rain, which actually did nothing to dampen the high spirits.

We began with the long jump, onto a newly set-up sand pit below the school. This was won by Dato Kvitsiani from Becho: congratulations!

Next came arm wrestling, using a specially built standard table just for the sport. This one has put Etseri on the map: one of its citizens has won the event at world level many times, as well as European and Soviet events of the same. His brother was in attendance, though not participating. Some pairings were over almost before they had begun, others took a few more seconds, but overall it wrapped up quite fast. Overall winner was Levan Charkviani, also from Becho.

The Georgian wrestling also began on the sand, but when rain began pelting down, we hurried indoors to the school’s gym, which was already prepared with the proper floor mats. MC Tolik (Anatoli) had already announced that here the winner would receive a ram and 20 liters of wine, a tradition which he hoped would continue in future years.

The grunting, red faces, sweat and merely holding on to one another for rest pauses indicated just how much energy the pairs were exerting. There were quite some acrobatics in evidence as well, with the various flips and other moves allowed by the rules, which were taken very seriously by a whistle-toting umpire. Georgia won gold in the Graeco-Roman version of this event at the 2004 Olympics, followed by more victories, so it is one of our strongest sports as a people. This might be one of the places where it has been practiced longest in the world, being an ancient neighbor of the sport’s homelands. One Dato Girvliani won this, besting our village’s teacher of the sport, who also put up a really good fight, giving us all plenty of suspense until the last few seconds on the mats.

Finally, there were volleyball and soccer, which I had to miss due to having guests and guest aftermaths to attend to at home. These were won by Chuberi and Etseri respectively. The horse race, unfortunately, was called off due to not having enough of the animals at hand; in this season they are roaming free on the surrounding hills and mountains, and can be quite hard to bring in. Many of the village boys aged 10 or even younger are adept bareback riders, so when one does get the chance to see a gallop, it is quite thrilling. As for me, galloping is the only gait I enjoy, because it’s nice and smooth, almost like flying; all the other things a horse offers are too bouncy for my inexperienced back. I did have to ride a horse back from Mestia to Etseri once in 2007, which took a couple of hours for the 28 km and left my thighs bleeding.

More such days, please, to encourage local boys and men in friendly competition against one another and show them that living here has quite a few upsides compared to sweaty, polluted, noisy, overcrowded Tbilisi! (More sport for the ladies, too, would not be amiss, even arm wrestling for those who milk a few cows twice a day, which is quite a workout, take it from me…)

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

By Tony Hanmer

20 June 2019 18:31