A few days ago, my family went to a hockey game (yes, ice hockey does exist in some parts of the South), and my dad asked me if hockey was a popular sport in Mongolia, to which I replied, “Uhhhhhh…”
It turns out Mongolia does have a national ice hockey team, but hockey would hardly be considered a “popular” sport there (note: sharing a border with Russia does not automatically make hockey a big deal in some countries). In actuality, the three traditional Mongolian sports are still the most popular and ARE a big deal: wrestling, horse racing, and archery. These three sports are the highlights of Naadam, the main national festival in Mongolia.
Mongolian wrestling is the most popular of the three sports. During Naadam, hundreds of wrestlers from across the country compete in the main competition in Ulaanbaatar, while additional smaller competitions take place in each aimag (province) and sum (district) around the country.
And yes, they all wear that outfit.
And the wrestlers start very young:
Horse racing is another of the sports featured during Naadam, as horseback riding is central to Mongolian culture. Unlike Western horse racing , where races are typically shorter sprints (up to about 2 km) around a track, Mongolian horse racing is a cross-country event (with races 15 to 30 km long). Also, the jockeys are typically children between the ages of 5 and 13.
Recently, girls have been allowed to participate in the horse racing events right alongside the boys.
And finally, there’s archery.
Both men and women participate in the archery events at Naadam.
Like horseback riding, archery has a strong tradition in Mongolia (think back to Genghis Khan’s army). Although mounted archery is not as widespread today in Mongolia (or anywhere really) as it once was (for example, at most Naadam festivals, the archery and horse-riding competitions are separate), there has recently been a desire to bring back the tradition.