|JULY 11, 2001
|Opening day of the Naadam Festival, Mongolia's major annual celebration. Back in Ghengis Khan's day, warriors trained and competed at these festivities. Currently, Naadam is celebrated on the 11th and 12th to mark the Mongolian revolution in 1921, but its roots go back to the 3rd century BC when the Mongols believed that these events tested a man's power best. The major events are still archery, horse racing, and wrestling. Mongolian people everywhere travel into Ulaan Baatar, wearing unique regional costumes that are variations of pointy Mongolian hats, bright silk sashes, and long woolen or cashmere robes called 'deels.' Many of these people ride into town on horses that have manes and tails tied with ribbons. They compete intensely at sports, although by Western standards the prizes are small - $1000 to the wrestling champion and less to the archery and horse-race winners. Wrestling is the most popular spectator sport and the country's passion. Exactly 1024 people (a number neatly divisible by 2 into 10 rounds) entered the wrestling competition, no weight class, winner take all in a single elimination tournament. Wrestlers win a match by forcing an opponent to the ground. The archers stand and shoot at static targets, the Khasaa, which are colored blocks stacked into a triangle 75 meters away (they don't shoot on horseback as their ancestors did nor do they use the Western bullseye). The archers pull a draw weight between 50-60 pounds and look convincingly warrior-like in their Mongolian outfits.
Opening ceremonies of the Naadam Festival.
Winning wrestlers do an 'eagle dance' and prance around flags stuck in the field.
A little winner in the youngest archery class and his proud parents.