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The biathletes of Kazakhstan

We know that the cloggies of ABN Amro and ING Barings are deadly rivals the world over and eat each other's client lists for breakfast. In Almaty, Kazakhstan, that competition extends to the bankers' leisure time. And these aren't even Dutchmen, they're Kazakhs. They issue mad challenges to each other: downhill racing, skeet shooting, computer warfare, it's all in a day's fun.

I encounter the ING Barings downhill ski team limbering up at Chimbulak - an acceptable 2,300 to 3,200 metre resort with four lifts - just 20 minutes out of town.

At around $20 a day you can equip yourself with boots and skis, not the latest parabolic shape but decently maintained, and the lifts cost 100 tenge ($1) a ride. The jeunesse dorée of Kazakhstan are here sporting the latest gear. Is that Nurdin Damitov in a dashing blue-and-yellow jacket? Surely only yesterday he was nursing a damaged knee in frozen Astana, the new capital, 1,000km away. Don't bureaucrats like him need special permission to weekend in Almaty? So what's he doing here looking fit and well? It turns out he's Nurdin's brother Erken, who works at Halyk Savings Bank. "We're always being confused with each other," he says.

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