The Naadam festival in Mongolia is a massive national celebration, believed to have existed for centuries, held throughout the country, and focused around three traditional sports: wrestling, horse racing and archery.
Cowichan Valley wrestler Stephanie Mould was in Mongolia for Naadam this July, but not to participate in the wrestling competitions. Although she did get to attend the opening cermony in the national capital, Ulaanbaatar — where the biggest festival is held — Mould was there to train under Mongolia’s world-renowned wrestling coaches.
“Their whole culture is so involved in wrestling,” Mould commented. “It’s such a big part of their culture and traditions to do combat sports.”
Appropriately, the vast majority of Mongolia’s 26 Olympic medals have come in combat sports, including nine in wrestling, eight in judo and seven in boxing. The coaches Mould worked with included an Olympic bronze medallist, a Junior Olympics bronze medallist, and medallists at the Asian Games.
Mould made the two-week trip to Mongolia with members of the Canadian cadet and junior teams, and two coaches who are also members of the senior national team. The opportunity was open to wrestlers who placed at both the provincial and national championships, so Mould put her name in for consideration.
The Canadian wrestlers went to five different training clubs in Ulaanbaatar, training twice a day under Mongolia coaches. The second week was more structured than the first as the Canadians were joined by the Korean senior national team.
“We focused a lot on small adjustments that make so much of a difference,” Mould recalled. “Practicing those over and over and over.”
The coaches from Mongolia didn’t speak English, but one Mongolian coach who moved to Canada 10 years ago was able to serve as a translator. The athletes and coaches found other ways to communicate as well.
“We used hand signals and a couple of words they had learned,” Mould said.
Having graduated from Cowichan Secondary School in June and wrapped up her career with the Cowichan Valley Wrestling Club, Mould will head to Simon Fraser University at the end of August. She was recruited by several universities, but picked SFU both because it is close to home and for its highly regarded program.
“It felt like going there gives me the best chance to go far in wrestling,” she said. “They’ve produced a lot of good wrestlers, especially female wrestlers.”