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The Naadam Festival in Mongolia: Ancient Sports Meet the Modern World

The Naadam Festival in Mongolia: Ancient Sports Meet the Modern World ( “Three Manly Sports” - A One-of-a-Kind Tourist Experience

As sports facilities in the U.S. raise their prices while questioning their players’ prowess, and watching the same old games on television becomes just one more sedentary and isolating experience, a unique and spectator-thrilling alternative for the sports-loving adventurer exists in Mongolia, “The Heart of Asia and Home to Friendly Nomads”. Here an exciting and still-undiscovered world of events known as the “Three Manly Sports” occurs annually at the Naadam Festival, this year taking place from July 11-13, 2008.

A total sensory experience of sound, sight and the thrill of rigorous physical challenges await the Naadam Festival spectator. The three day long festivities revolve around the “Three Manly Sports” competitive events featuring the ancient Mongolian sports of riding, wrestling and archery. Here, brilliant swirling colors and elaborate costumes, cheering crowds and feats of amazing physical displays bring to life glimpses of Mongolia’s ancient world augmented by today’s modern twists and tourist comforts.

The Naadam Festival is played out in the central stadium in Mongolia’s increasingly sophisticated capital city of Ulaanbaatar and horse racing routes on the surrounding steppe. “The heritage of the Naadam Festival evokes the country’s warrior and nomadic past, while its spirit captures the enthusiasm and energy of its citizens today,” comments Batkhuyag Dorjpurev, Vice Minister of Roads, Transport and Tourism.

Centuries ago, the featured sports of the Naadam games were devised to measure the “courage, strength and daring” of male adults. While the events are still tests of skill and boldness, these “Mongolian-style Olympic Games” have evolved since the days of Chinggis Khan and his 13th century army. Now, male and female children, rather than adult men, race the exquisite horses, a departure made to better test the ability of the horses and skills of their riders alike. The wrestling matches, a cornucopia of techniques seen nowhere else in the world, introduces contestants in open-front vests—a change attributed to the legend that a woman long ago disguised herself as a man to compete. The archery competitions, however, using ancient Mongolian compound bows, boasting an advanced design which is still unsurpassed today, offer women a chance to participate.

“In all of the events,” says Erdenechimeg Batmunkh, Executive Director of the Mongolia National Tourism Organization, “you can hear the eager shouts and cheers from the onlookers, and the singing of the old and new Mongolian folk songs. Together, the onlookers – city dwellers, nomads and tourists – are united in these unparalleled sporting games, a truly must-see spectacular,” she concludes.

Adding to the pleasures of the Festival, tourists can make their own choices about how to experience these amazing competitions: staying in luxurious tourist camps and obtaining special viewing arrangements, or participation as a rugged individual backpacker.

About Naadam Festival Wrestling
The Naadam opens with the contest of 16 pairs of wrestlers and lasts 14-15 hours. Within that time 512 wrestlers in all take part. Their wrestling apparel consists of gutul (national boots), zodog (a short jacket with long sleeves, tight-fitting across the back and with the chest open) and shuudag (short trunks). In modern times Mongolian wrestling developed further as one of the main national sports. In 1962, the Mongolian Wrestling Federation became a member of the International Amateur Wrestling Federation. Young sportsmen train regularly in free-style wrestling, sambo and judo, and have achieved remarkable results.

About Naadam Festival Horse Racing
Horse racing is organized in celebration of the National Day and the traditional New Year – Tsagaan Sar and on other notable occasions. Horses aged two years and above take part. Mostly there are seven groups – two, three, four, five and six year olds, stallions and amblers. Horse training begins two or three months prior to Naadam. Each rider has his own ways and methods which he is usually reluctant to reveal. During training the trainer finds the best pastures for the horse to graze on. Of course, the goal of the trainer is to get the horse into the best shape possible.

Depending on the age of the horses, distances vary from 5 to 30 km (30 km was the distance between two stations in the postal system invented by Chingiss Khan and which was the forerunner of the Pony Express). All participants start simultaneously. The winner is honored with a cup of airag (fermented mare’s milk), which he drinks and sprinkles on the head and rear of the horse. The first five horses are sprinkled with airag: they are commonly known as Airagyn tav. After the race, some of the best singers in the country honor the riders and their horses with their songs of praise and congratulations.

About Naadam Festival Archery
The target consists of 360 small leather rings fixed to a wall 40-50 cm high and 4 m long. Men shoot at this target from a distance of 75 meters and women from a distance of 60 meters. Men shoot 40 arrows at the target and must score not less than 15-18 points; women shoot 20 and must score not less than 13-17. The bow has no sight. The arrows are made of thin willow twigs and feathers of the powerful griffon-vulture. The hexahedral point is made of bone. The bow-string is very tough, prepared from the tendons of three-year-old bulls. Archery contests are accompanied by the uuhai, a choral tune resembling a drawling folk song. In accordance with ancient custom, on both sides of the target, stand several men singing with their hands raised to indicate the results of the shooting. As a rule, during the Naadam Festival, individual as well as team championships in archery are organized. In 1963 the Mongolian Archery Federation joined the International Archery Federation and their archers have participated in major world contests.

For more information visit or contact The Bradford Group, 212-447-0027; href="">

About Mongolia
· Independent, parliamentary republic located in Central Asia between China and Russia
· Home of the legendary Chinggis Khan, nomadic herders, the Gobi desert, and rich folk traditions
· Capital city, Ulaanbaatar, offers five-star accommodations and direct links to international hubs
· Travel highlights: horse trekking, visits with nomads, dinosaur fossils, archeological ruins, festivals,&temples
· Mongolia will enjoy ideal viewing of the August 2008 solar eclipse

About Mongolia National Tourism Organization (MNTO)
MNTO’s mission is to globally enhance a unified branding and marketing of Mongolia, its people, and its products, as a unique tourist destination. Marketing itself as “Mongolia – The Heart of Asia and Home to Friendly Nomads”, the MNTO US-representation will focus on building a tourism profile with the travel industry&travel consumer.

For editorial contact: Karen Hoffman / Fran Levine; The Bradford Group Tel: (212) 447-0027; E-mail:

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