Medals Get Azerbaijan Buzzing at European Games -- On the Scene

'Maradona of Karate' one of seven Azeri golds... Baku 2015 says alcohol didn't play part in bus accident...Volleyball empty seats

(ATR)It was ‘Super Saturday’ for Azerbaijan as the host nation’s athletes bagged seven medals and got Baku buzzing with excitement about the Games.

At the end of the first full day of competition, Azerbaijan were second in the medals table – helped by iconic karateka Rafael Aghayev.

The 30-year-old, also dubbed the ‘Black Panther’ is a four-time world champion with nine European championship golds to his name. Today he sent a packed house at the Crystal Hall into raptures when he downed Luigi Busa 1-0 to win the Kumite -75kg class.

Earlier, Ilaha Gasimova won Azerbaijan's first medal of the Games, taking bronze in the women's Kumite -55kg.

Aghayev was moved to tears during the national anthem after collecting his gold from the First Lady of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva.

Chaos reigned as security officials and Baku 2015 staff struggled to control the large crowd of fans who mobbed him as he went to doping control and to speak to media in the I Zone. Aghayev milked the attention, making time for a large group of volunteers as well as numerous youngsters to have their pictures taken with him. He allowed fans to take selfies too.

His defeated opponent Busa told ATR it had been a "very hard" contest, but seemed content with his silver.

President Ilham Aliyev also presented medals Saturday, while IOC president Thomas Bach and sports minister Azad Rahimov watched from the sidelines. World Karate chief Antonio Espinos and Turkish Olympic Committee secretary general and EOC executive committee member Hasan Arat were also seen awarding medals.

Investigation into Austrian Athletes

At the first daily media briefing held at the Hilton Hotel, Baku 2015 chief operating officer Simon Clegg and organizing committee leader Azad Rahimov answered reporters’ questions. Thepolice investigation into the bus collision that injured three Austrian athletes remains the biggest issue.

Amid reports that some staff at the athletes’ village have been drunk on duty, Clegg was asked if alcohol might have played a part in the bus accident.

Labelling it "incredibly tragic", he said there was "absolutely nothing to suggest alcohol played any part in the incident".He said organizers BEGOC would make no further statement until the police probe was complete. Austrian officials were due to be updated by police later Saturday.

Ready for Anti-Armenia Sentiment

After large sections of the opening ceremony crowd booed and jeered the six-strong Armenia delegation, Clegg admitted the reaction was "something we expected".

Asked by ATR if organizers were worried about the impact of tensionsbetween the countries during competitions, he said: "We have spent some time looking at a range of scenarios.I hope people will respect that athletes are here to compete and hope people will respect athletic performances irrespective of which country they are from."

Media Bans

The banning of the Guardian newspaper drew some questions. Clegg said Baku 2015 had brought up the case of chief sports correspondent Owen Gibson being denied entry with government officials.Rahimov, who is also the country’s sport minister, said the government "can approve or non-approve" journalists "for many different reasons".

Volleyball Empty Seats

Questions for Baku 2015 organisers will come about the empty seats in the 2,000-capacity Crystal Hall 1 next door to the karate where the volleyball competition was taking place.Azerbaijan’sgame against Romania in the women’s volleyball competition was played out in a half-full arena, sparking concerns about ticket distribution.

Games Lanes

ATR travelled on several buses on day two of competition and most have run on time. The Games lanes – for Baku 2015 vehicles transporting athletes, spectators and officials – are clearly marked throughout the city, with other motorists abiding by the rules not to use them.

Traffic management by police, stopping queues of cars to prevent Baku 2015 buses getting clogged in congestion, has worked well so far.

Big Budget Show

Baku 2015 said Friday's two-hour long curtain-raiser cost about $95 million. Some 2,000 cast members and 350 production staff were involved. "There are some invoices still to be paid, but the cost will be about 100 million manat," Rahimove told reporters.

"All the efforts made over the last two years have yielded good results. There has been a very positive impression in general and we are of course very glad," he said.

Lady Gaga performed a rendition of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’

Catherine Ugwu, one of the executive producers who oversaw the London 2012 ceremonies, told reporters that the show, which celebrated Azerbaijan’s culture and history, was intended to make Baku and the country proud.

Asked how she kept Lady Gaga’s appearance a secret, she said "with great difficulty", before adding, "she came in very late. We hid her. Luckily it didn’t leak."

Reported by Mark Bisson

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