The Naadam Festival is the major Mongolian holiday. Naadam, meaning game or competition in Mongolian, features the three sporting passions of Mongolians: wrestling, horse racing and archery over three days of festivities. Naadam is not just limited to sports but is a carnival of music, dancing and food.
All three sports have their roots in the historical warrior tradition of Mongolia. Originating in 1206 when Genghis Khan founded the Mongolian empire, the games served as a training ground for Mongolia’s warriors. The Naadam festival today celebrates the country’s heritage and independence after seven decades under Soviet communism.
Wrestling is an elimination tournament with 512 men, where the winner advances to the next round and the loser is eliminated. The goal is to take down the opponent; a fight is lost as soon as one person touches the ground with a knee, elbow or back. The horse races are broken down into six categories based on the age of the horses, and races are between 10 miles (16 kilometers) and 17 miles (30 kilometers). Boys and girls, aged five to 13, are the jockeys, used to increase the horses’ endurance. Finally, archery is played in teams of ten. Each team receives four arrows and has to hit 33 targets. Men shoot from a distance of 75 meters and women 65 meters. Women participate in all but the wrestling category.
Sources: Gobi Sunshine Co. “Mongolian National Festival Naadam.” Naadam-Festival, N.d. Web. 16 June 2010; The Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads (CSEN).”Nadaam Festival,” N.d. Web. 17 June 2010; Shapiro, Michael. “Steppe lively: Mongolia’s Naadam games.” The Washington Post. 11 April 2010. Web. 17 June 2010