The Spin Cycle
Twenty four hours into my return trip to Mongolia and there is already plenty to report; including a new wrestling video, updates from the Guinness World Record tournament and some surprising news from the World Championships in Turkey. All that and a weather update from the coldest capital city in the world.
The Mongolian national team is in Turkey right now, leaving me without many of my closest in-country contacts. Tomorrow is the start of Mongolia’s record-breaking 4096 man wrestling tournament in Ulan Bator and I’ve spent the past 24 hours scrambling for new contacts that might deliver me to the competition tomorrow with a media pass and/or entry pass. Nothing is definite but I might have stumbled into some good fortune this morning when I was contacted by a former All-American wrestler living in Mongolia. He’ll be escorting me to the main wrestling gym this afternoon where I hope to make contact with officials in charge of tomorrow’s competition. It’s Mongolia so there is very little you can assume about how things will pan out today, much less tomorrow or Tuesday.
I’m freezing. It’s December-slumber-party-at-Lambeau-Field cold right now in Ulaanbaatar. When I’m not traveling I live in Chicago and though I missed most of the summer I was last seen in August wearing a tee shirt and sandals. The temperature was 90 degrees which made me reluctant to believe that in a few weeks, at a spot in the northern hemisphere, it could be cold enough for a random Mongolian kid to walk up to me and ask if I was okay (The perfect English was the second biggest surprise of this encounter, the first was that he looked unaffected wearing only a track suit and big, goofy smile). Turtogtokh deserves some of the blame for allowing me to arrive in UB so ill-prepared. I asked him what it was going to be like and he claimed it’s “not bad until later in the year.” No good liar, that TTT.
The video above is the first of three new ones recently delivered by videographer Colin Sternegal. He’s not going to cover the Guinness tournament because he’s signed up for a marathon in the Gobi desert, but he took the time to make sure that I’m thoroughly embarrassed by this first video. I think you can agree I was outmatched by the talent and sheer size of my opponent, and did a really poor job of keeping him out of my jodag. I actually trained with this animal at Usuhbayar’s wrestling camp a few weeks prior to the tournament (he tossed me there as well) and was a little surprised to be facing him in competition. He’s a nice guy and made sure to seek me out the next day for a good laugh at my expense. There is no situation in which I would have bested him, but I do need to add (for transparency’s sake) that the sky is gray in the video because it’s getting dark but I’m green because I was projectile vomiting 10 minutes before the match. Let that be your lesson on shaking hands on the steppe for several hours without a few liberal doses of Purell.
Congrats to the Mongolian women wrestlers who placed at the World Championships! Otgontsetseg earned silver at 51kg and Nasanburmaa earned bronze at 63kg. After watching several of their practices, I can’t say I’m surprised by their success, these women are determined to win and completely confident in their abilities. If you want a fun piece of trivia, the idea of women’s team in Mongolia has only been around for 10 years and many of the girls on this year’s team have only been wrestling for 2-4 years. Many of the women are simply plucked from farms and sent to school in UB, where they learn to wrestle.
After five weight classes the American women have failed to medal and the entire USA Men’s Greco team came up empty handed. If you saw the difference in training facilities and funding you’d be flummoxed by the disparity in results. I know I am.