Feb 21 (Reuters) - 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 proved.
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 series.
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 O‘Brien)
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