Sport in Bulgaria
Bulgaria has established traditions in a great variety of sports.
In its men's national volleyball side, controlled by the Bulgarian Volleyball Federation, Bulgaria fields one of the leading volleyball teams in Europe and the world. As of January 2009[update] the team held 4th place in the world according to FIVB rankings. Bulgaria has regularly featured in the Top 10, and has earned silver medals at the 1980 Summer Olympics, the 1970 Volleyball World Championship and the 1951 European Championship, as well as numerous bronze medals, including at the 2007 World Cup in Japan. As of 2009[update] the most popular Bulgarian volleyball players include Plamen Konstantinov, Matey Kaziyski and Vladimir Nikolov.
Association football has become by far the most popular sport in the country. Many Bulgarian fans closely follow the top Bulgarian league, the "A" Professional Football Group; as well as the leagues of other European countries. The national team achieved its greatest success with a fourth-place finish at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States.
Dimitar Berbatov (Димитър Бербатов) currently[update] ranks as one of the most famous Bulgarian football players. As of season 2012/2013, he plays for FC Fulham, rejoining with manager Martin Jol who brought him to England. Berbatov also spent four seasons at Manchester United, where he scored his first two goals for the team in their 3–0 win away to Aalborg in the Champions League group stage on 30 September 2008, less than a month after he joined the team. Georgi Asparuhov, nicknamed Gundi (1943–1971), also became extremely popular at home and abroad, having had offers from clubs in Italy and Portugal, and having won the Bulgarian football player №1 award for the twentieth century. Hristo Stoichkov has arguably become the best-known Bulgarian footballer of all time. His career peaked between 1992 and 1995, while he played for FC Barcelona, winning the Ballon d'Or in 1994. Additionally, he featured in the FIFA 100 rankings. Three Bulgarians have won the European top scorers' Golden Boot award: Hristo Stoichkov, Georgi Slavkov and Petar Jekov.
CSKA Sofia is the best-performing Bulgarian football club based on all-time national and international statistics. Levski Sofia became the first Bulgarian team to participate in the modern UEFA Champions League in 2006/2007. Slavia Sofia, Lokomotiv Sofia and Litex Lovech have often played in the UEFA Europa League. Other popular clubs include Botev Plovdiv, Cherno More Varna and Lokomotiv Plovdiv.
Rugby union in Bulgaria dates back to the 1960s, possibly earlier. Bulgaria also has its own international men, women's and sevens teams.
Bulgaria participates both in the Summer and Winter Olympics, and its first appearance dates back to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, when the Swiss gymnast Charles Champaud represented the country. Since then Bulgaria has appeared in most Summer Olympiads, and as of 2009[update] has won a total of 212 medals: 51 gold, 84 silver, and 77 bronze. The most successful participations took place at Munich (21 medals), Montreal (22 medals), Moscow (41), Seoul (35). At the Winter Olympic Games, Bulgaria has a less impressive record: only 6 medals (of which only one gold) out of 17 participations.
Some of the most prominent Olympians include Mariya Grozdeva (shooting), Ekaterina Dafovska (biathlon), Armen Nazaryan (wrestling), Stefka Kostadinova (high jump, holder of the world record since 1987), Yordan Yovchev (gymnastics), Neshka Robeva (gymnastics), Rumyana Neykova (rowing).
Weightlifting is the most successful discipline. Bulgarian weightlifters have earned a total of 67 medals - 16 gold, 37 silver and 20 bronze. Without doubt this is one of Bulgaria's highest priority sports with around 1,000 gold medals in different competitions, although cases of doping have occurred among Bulgarian weightlifters, which led to the expulsion of the entire Bulgarian team from the 2000 Summer Olympics, and their voluntary withdrawal from the 1988 Summer Olympics. Stefan Botev, Nikolay Peshalov, Demir Demirev and Yoto Yotov figure among the most distinguished weightlifters.
Shooting sports have also proven to be among Bulgaria's strongest disciplines. Mariya Grozdeva and Tanyu Kiryakov have won Olympic gold medals, and Ekaterina Dafovska won the Olympic gold in biathlon in the 1998 Winter Olympic Games.
Bulgaria boasts great achievements in a great variety of other sports. Maria Gigova and Maria Petrova have each held a record of three world-titles in rhythmic gymnastics. Other famous gymnasts include Simona Peycheva and Neshka Robeva (a highly successful coach as well). Yordan Yovchev ranks as the most famous Bulgarian competitor in Artistic Gymnastics. In wrestling, Boyan Radev, Serafim Barzakov, Armen Nazaryan, Plamen Slavov, Kiril Sirakov and Sergey Moreyko rank as world-class wrestlers. Dan Kolov became a wrestling legend in the early 20th century after leaving for United States.
Bulgarians have made many significant achievements in athletics. Stefka Kostadinova, who still holds the women's high jump world record, jumped 209 centimetres at the 1987 World Championships in Athletics in Rome to clinch the coveted title. Presently[update], Bulgaria takes pride in its sprinters, especially Ivet Lalova and Tezdzhan Naimova.
Chess has achieved great popularity. One of the top chess-masters and a former world champion, Veselin Topalov, plays for Bulgaria. At the end of 2005, both men's and women's world chess-champions came from Bulgaria, as well as the junior world champion.
Bulgarians have also achieved major successes in tennis. The Maleeva sisters: Katerina, Manuela and Magdalena, have each reached the top ten in world rankings, and became the only set of three sisters ranked in the top ten at the same time. Bulgaria has other well-known tennis players such as Tsvetana Pironkova, Sesil Karatancheva and Grigor Dimitrov, who in 2008 became the Wimbledon junior champion and US Open junior champion.
The country has strong traditions in amateur boxing and in martial-arts competitions. Bulgaria has achieved major success with its judo and karate teams in European and World championships. Kaloyan Stefanov Mahlyanov, best known as Kotoōshū Katsunori, has become well-known worldwide for his sumo prowess, becoming the first European to earn the title ozeki in Japan. Bulgaria has also won several European sumo championships, and is often among the top competitors in this sport.
- FIVB official rankings as per January 15, 2009
- Hibbs, Ben (30 September 2008). "Berbatov Plays It Cool". ManUtd.com. Manchester United. Retrieved 1 October 2008.
- "Gundi pips Stoichkov to Top Footballer of the century" (article in Bulgarian)
- Rankings of A Group
- Best club of 20th century ranking at the official site of the International Federation of Football History and Statistics
- Olympic authorities stripped a number of Bulgarian weightlifters[who?] of medals in 2004; and the country's entire weightlifting team withdrew in 2008. Longman, Jere (2000-09-23). "SYDNEY 2000: WEIGHT LIFTING; Drug Scandal Goes On: Bulgarian Team Is Ousted From Games". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-19. "The entire Bulgarian weight-lifting team was expelled from the Olympics today in a drug scandal ... Two Bulgarian lifters tested positive for the diuretic furosemide, according the International Olympic Committee. It was the same diuretic that two Bulgarian gold medalists were caught using at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea. The entire Bulgarian weight-lifting team withdrew from those Games."