We arrived to Mongolia just in time for the biggest national sporting event: Naadam. This summertime festival features the “three manly sports” of Mongolia: wrestling, archery, and horse racing. The games are held throughout the country in the summer, and with the biggest one is held in UB.
We saw the pageantry of the opening ceremony, archery, and wrestling. The horse racing is further out, so perhaps later this year or next we’ll see that at a countryside Naadam. The events took place at a stadium and sporting complex. The day had the feel of a state fair, with people and vendors filling the grounds around the stadium. We got to see the President Elbegdorj to shoot at the archery range– think Obama tossing the opening pitch for baseball season.
It was nice bit of Mongolian culture our first week in town.
Mongolians are excellent wrestlers. They clean up at the Olympics in terms of medals per capita, and right now the top Sumo wrestlers are Mongolian. Traditional Mongolian wrestling is unstructured: there are no weight classes, ring boundaries, time limits, or age limits. You just want to get your opponent to touch their knee or elbow or upper body to the ground. Apparently some of the better matches can go on for 30 minutes. Exhausting.
Before the match wrestlers come out an do sort of an eagle walk / dance with their arms extended. It looked like the winner does this again after the match. I don’t know the specifics. You can see in the photos that each wrestler has a coach who is next to them when they are wrestling, kind of following the match around.
In Naadam, wrestling is the only all-man event. Women can compete in archery and the horse races are very different from the Kentucky Derby. Only children ages 5-13 can be the jockeys and the horse races a cross-country course anywhere from 15 to 30 km long. I think women can technically compete in wrestling, but the required uniform is an open jacket that would leave a female wrestler pretty exposed.