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The World Sauna Championships 2010

Watched a somewhat disturbing mini-documentary yesterday. This may be a somewhat disturbing post too, note! Don't read if you don't want to.

Have you ever heard of the World Sauna Championships? That took place in Finland on a yearly basis up until 2010? Where each year contestants would gather in a small sauna, with a starting temperature of 110°C, where half a liter of water was poured on the stones every thirty seconds, until all but one contestant stumbled out of the room. The last contestant to get out of the room UNAIDED won the championship.

2010 they upped the stakes a bit. The sauna was a bit more extreme than before. Russian Vladimir Ladyzhensky and Finn Timo Kaukonen battled it out to the bitter end... when Timo collapsed, and they were assisted out of the room. The Russian had to be dragged out - he couldn't move - and even after a successful resuscitation he died on the spot. Apparently he had anesthetic cream on his skin, and had taken strong painkillers before the competition, which was not allowed, and maybe also the reason he died.

Timo on the other hand made it out alive, was taken to the hospital with severe burns as layers of skin literally loosened from his body, and he fell into a coma for six weeks. He remembers nothing of the competition. It was a painful recovery, yet even now, with burn marks and scars covering his body, he sits in the sauna daily, and wishes the competitions would start again.

He has no qualms with the arrangers of the event that caused him so much pain. He sees it as an unfortunate event, but he loves the sport, and he's sad that after this tragedy no more competitions take place.

What's somehow even more unfair is that a contestant who both of these two champions outlasted officially won this championship that year - without undergoing any of this suffering - since he was able to leave the sauna on his own earlier. And is thus recorded as the final winner of these championships. Ever. For all he went through Timo deserved that spot IMO.

I wonder, if the Russian hadn't taken those painkillers, would he have left earlier? Would he have lived? Would Timo have gotten out of there without those burns, as well, and been the victor? Would the yearly championship's have continued henceforth? And could they then have kept going without severe injury, or was it inevitable that eventually they'd up the stakes too much; push themselves too far; not know or care for their limitations?

The reason they suffered such severe burns is apparently because the water tank released more water than it was supposed to as well, and essentially boiled the two contestants alive. But to win an extreme sport you need extreme fortitude, so they withstood the pain beyond what's humanly possible; beyond the point of no return. Those pain receptors are there for a reason after all...

It reminds me a bit of that one guy (Francisco Lázaro) who ran an Olympic marathon in the 1910's, and died of a heatstroke since he'd covered his body in wax (suet, more specifically) as sun lotion, and it covered his pores and made it impossible for the body to regulate heat via sweat. He was the first person to die in an Olympic event. Of course it's a different case since his death wasn't by direct cause of the competition, but his use of wax does feel a bit similar to Vladimir's use of anesthetic cream, also in a competition where such a concoction would theoretically improve his performance and give him a better chance of winning.

He probably wasn't the first one to use wax for such purposes, but maybe the first to die for it. Back before they knew about heat regulation, I suppose. Back before regular sun lotion was a thing. He was too but a victim of unfortunate circumstance, attempting to ride out the limitations of the human body...

I guess the moral of these stories is to trust your body.

Don't cheat. Don't attempt to do something you wouldn't be capable of doing without assistance.

This also made me think of Hisashi Ouchi, a worker involved in creating fuel rods for an experimental plant in Japan, who during a time of inadequate regulations or knowledge of the dangers thereof used a little too high a dose of radioactive chemicals, causing a reaction that exposed him to the highest dose of radiation any human has ever been exposed to thus far - and survived. He was taken to the hospital in a terrible state, and kept on life support for eighty-three days, in excruciating pain, wishing to die, as doctors used him as a case study on the effects of radiation.

^ One of many incidents that has made me very skeptical in regard to the future use and potential benefits of nuclear energy.

In the case of the sauna championships though surely we knew it wasn't a healthy sport from the start.

Whereas that wax was a creative approach to keeping out harmful UV radiation these tournaments were just straight up madness. How many braincells did contestants lose during the years leading up to this tragic finale? Surely there have to be worse consequences to sitting in a 110°C room than your heart-rate going close to 200 BPM and occasional blisters forming on your skin.

The pain's the threshold. The fact that these guys surpassed it, voluntarily, to the point of death and third-degree burns... just feels very disturbing. And watching actual footage from said contest is no less so.

I'm glad I learned more of this legend, because he really was - and is - a remarkably strong-willed man, but at the same time I kind of wish I didn't.

He reached a level of fortitude it seems nobody should have. The will to surpass the body's built in defenses against danger. The mind overpowering it's common cage. Voluntarily subjecting itself to this level of damage.

It's kind of haunting.


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  1. biterr
    Thursday Mar/9/2023

    This is one of most extreme sports that I have heard of. Russia has a history of making weird sports. For example, recently they invented booty slapping championship (only womens are allowed to play).

  2. Cyber
    Friday Mar/10/2023

    Ah that seems like a way more light-hearted and harmless competition at least, lest they take it to similar extremes and actually do some serious booty-related damage. XD Seems like a fun thing to watch though hmm, interesting...

    In regard to the above it was actually a Finnish event, as far as I know. They are pioneers when it comes to the sauna after all - it's their word for it we use in English as well. Though all nearby countries have their own local alternations on the word/tradition, that just didn't get the same mainstream/international appeal.

    I wonder if there's some uplifting little booty slapping documentary out there to balance this one out hmm...

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