There are a couple of things that you should know about Mongolia. Firstly, it is the world’s least densely populated country. Secondly, its capital Ulaan Bataar is the world’s coldest capital city and about 45% of the population live there because much of the country is desert. Mongolia receives little rain, but because of its altitude, lack of access to the sea, and open terrain below the Siberian Steppes it receives very harsh weather in the form of bitterly cold temperatures, and because it has about 250 sunny days per year the lack of cloud cover makes the temperatures seem even chillier.
In other words, Mongolia is a tough place in which to live. And so are the sports they prefer to play.
Wrestling is for men only, and everyone competes in the same competition, no matter what their size. In the Mongolian form of the contest wrestlers lose if they touch the ground with any part of their body other than their feet or hand.
As descendants of the Mongols, those mighty horsemen who conquered Asia and much of Europe on tough, nuggety steeds it should be no surprise that horse racing is also a popular sport. Unlike western horse races which take place on a track, in Mongolia it is about riding, not watching, and the races are 15 to 30 kilometres in length, determined by the age of the horse.
Archery is also a major sport, but instead of shooting at just one target, the Mongolians try to hit many.
All of these sports are celebrated in mid-Summer at the Nadaam Festival, which occurs in many places throughout Mongolia. The Festival is a major holiday which has its roots in the nomad wedding assemblies and hunting extravaganzas of the Mongol Army.
The festival takes place over two days in July, and women can compete in both the horse racing and archery, but are banned from participating in the wrestling. In fact, the distinctive wrestling costume is specifically designed to be brief in order to prove that all participants are men.
Hundreds of wrestlers take part in a single elimination contest which lasts nine or ten rounds, depending on the number of competitors.
Up to one thousand horses can participate in each of the horse races, with children aged from 5 to 13 trained to be the jockeys. Races are very ceremonial and are accompanied by singing at both the start and the end of each race.
Archers compete in ten person teams, with each archer having to fire off four arrows, with teams having to hit 33 targets to be considered as good archers.
The Nadaam Festival is very colourful as traditional costumes are worn, and although the sporting events are the main feature there is a lot of singing, dancing and celebrating which is all an important part of the festival.