Feb 21 While the elite of the sporting world
tune up for this year's London Olympics in top class facilities,
many hundreds of other medal hopefuls are forced to make do with
less salubrious surroundings.
Mongolia's Asian champion freestyle wrestler Mandakhnaran
Ganzorig is a case in point, as a visit to his training camp in
Ulan Bator, the capital of his landlocked country, last October
The gym looked like something that Rocky Balboa might have
trained in before he went from 'Bum of the Month' to world
champion in Sylvester Stallone's Oscar-winning boxing movie
Old and tired, the paint peeled from the walls above a floor
littered with practice mats that had clearly seen better days.
Light flooded in from glass bricks along the top edge of one
wall and bounced off the others.
A group of children played on ancient free weight machines,
climbed up gym ropes and rolled around on the floor mimicking
their wrestling hero Ganzorig.
The squat but powerful 25-year-old, standing just 1.65
metres tall, led his fellow wrestlers through warm up routines
before loosening his shoulders on the rings, almost pulling off
a perfect crucifix.
The children looked on and then decided to commandeer the
far end of the gym to play basketball, while Ganzorig wrestled
with sparring partners under the watchful eye of his coach.
While the gym was by no means world class, the atmosphere
was intoxicating and it was not difficult to imagine that a
couple of decades ago, Ganzorig would have been one of those
children sharing the mat with his mentors.
Wrestling was considered the most important of Mongolian
culture's historic three 'manly' skills, the other two
being horsemanship and archery.
The great 13th century Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan
considered wrestling to be the best way to keep his army in top
physical condition and combat ready.
Eight of Mongolia's 19 Olympic medals since the nation,
which has the lowest population density for an independent
country in the world, was first represented at the Games in 1964
have come on the wrestling mat.
Ganzorig won gold in the 60 kg category at the Asian Games
in Guangzhou, China in 2010 and is hoping to do the same in
London, where the medals themselves will have special
significance for the Mongolian athletes.
As part of an Olympic sponsorhip deal with Rio Tinto, the
4,700 gold, silver and bronze medals for the July 27-Aug. 12
Games will be made from metals that have in large part been
sourced in the huge Oyu Tolgoi mine in the Gobi desert.
"Winning a medal is my biggest ambition and winning one
containing Mongolian metal would be an added bonus," Ganzorig,
who is also sponsored by the mining giant, said last month.
(Additional writing by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John
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