Mongolia's 'unbreakable flower' wrestles for Rio gold

Tue Jul 5, 2016 7:16am EDT
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By Terrence Edwards

ULAANBAATAR (Reuters) - Battsetseg Soronzonbold became a national hero in her native Mongolia after winning wrestling bronze at the London Olympics and is determined to turn the medal into gold in Rio next month.

Born in a country with a long tradition of wrestling, the 26-year-old Battsetseg, whose name means "unbreakable flower", is currently training twice a day with about a dozen young men and women in a camp some 45 minutes drive from Ulaanbaatar.

The popularity of wrestling in the country of under three million people, sandwiched between Russia and China, is only paralleled by their love for horses, meat and an alcoholic mare's milk concoction called airag.

"From ancient times we have been a wrestling country," coach Sukhbataar said. "Mongolian women are like warriors - really strong - that's why traditionally it's easy for them to become successful wrestlers."

Grappling and hand-to-hand combat were ways for soldiers to keep strong when the Mongol horde led by 13th century conqueror Genghis Khan marched across Asia and reached the edges of Medieval Europe.

Mongolia these days has fans of K-pop and Hollywood superhero movies but wrestling is still revered.

Battsetseg got hooked on the sport while in a hospital bed recovering from tonsil surgery.

"When I was watching TV, I saw these nice women wrestling, then I said to my teacher this is really nice," said Battsetseg.   Continued...

Mongolia's Olympic wrestler Battsetseg Soronzonbold (C) fights with her training partner during a daily training session at the Mongolia Women’s National Wrestling Team training centre in Bayanzurkh district of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, July 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee