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Photographer's Note

I know this shot is flawed, but I posted it because I'm guessing that most people haven’t seen a Mongolian wrestling match.

Wrestling is the national sport of Mongolia, and one of the three “manly arts” practiced at the Naadam Festivals every July.

As the match begins, the wrestlers line up for the entrance. Each one of the 164 wrestlers enters into the ring in a line. As they reach the front of the line, they bend forward from the waist, smack themselves on the front of the thighs, then on the back, and then on the front again. In addition, each wrestler has a “handler” dressed in a del (traditional Mongolian coat) who acts as a coach and a ref.

The wrestlers are then paired off randomly with no weight classes. However, because the sport requires brains as well as brawn, the biggest wrestlers do not always win. All 82 matches go on simultaneously in the ring. When one of the pair falls, the other is declared the winner of that round. The loser must place his hand on the winner’s shoulder and do the “eagle dance” around him, with his other hand in the air and taking surprisingly graceful leaps. Then the winner does a similar eagle dance around a pole at one end of the ring. When each of the first round matches finish, the winners pair off for the next round. After a few rounds, there is a break during which the handlers and the officials come out and chant. Then the next round begins and so on, until there on only two left. There is no time limit on the matches, and towards the end, the wrestlers seem tired, and will lock into an embrace, and rest for minutes at time.

The outfits have an interesting story behind them. Apparently the tops used to close in the front, but at some Naadam festival long ago, a woman won the match, putting the men to shame. After that, wrestlers were only permitted to wear open tops.

The wrestlers are ranked by their number of wins, starting with Falcon, then Lion, then Elephant, and finally Champion.

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Additional Photos by Mimi Samuel (mimi) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 385 W: 330 N: 272] (2325)
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