Around 200 people competed in the State Swimming Championship of Mongolia last year. Half of these swimmers were teenagers between the ages of 14 and 16. These teenagers have a great potential in becoming regional and world champions but they don’t have good coaches, says Sports Master Sh.Davaadorj, the only winter swimmer in Mongolia.
“Enhancing the skills of coaches can boost development of swimming and even winter swimming. Making the public healthier and providing accurate information is the key to developing this sport. People think that swimming in pools is healthy. Well, winter swimming requires much more patience, endurance and discipline. However, those interested in becoming winter swimmers need to learn how to withstand cold waters and what food to eat,” Sh.Davaadorj noted.
48-year-old Sh.Davaadorj will participate in the 13th Latvian Winter Swimming Championships (LWSC) to be held on February 25 in Jurmala, Latvia. He shared about his training for the championships, winter swimming and future plans in the interview below.
Can you tell us about LWSC?
LWSC will take place on February 25 in Jurmala, Latvia. The eighth Winter Swimming Festival Pirita Open will begin on March 4 in Tallinn, Estonia. These two are the last scheduled competitions of the International Winter Swimming Association (IWSA) for 2016 to 2017. I plan to compete in both competitions. I will leave for Estonia right after LWSC.
Which events will you participate in?
I will enter three events at LWSC: 25-meter breaststroke, 50-meter dolphin kick (butterfly stroke), and 50-meter freestyle swim events. In Estonia, I will participate in the 25-meter butterfly stroke and freestyle events. It’s required to register a month in advance to enter the championship.
Do you have a coach?
No. I learned everything related to training and diet through the internet. My profession helped a lot. I graduated as an electrician in Russia in 1988. In Mongolia, I graduated from both the National Institute of Physical Education and the School of Law of the National University of Mongolia. Afterwards, I studied international security at the Novosibirsk State University. All three of these institutes are related to security and legal system, and two of them are related to food and anatomy. Hence, I know when to eat what for recovering lost energy.
What’s your training routine? Is it true that you train in Khuvsgul Lake?
Yes. I organized a workshop about swimming in cold water and rescue operation last year in June as requested by the Maritime Administration of the Ministry of Roads and Transportation. During my stay there, I trained in Khuvsgul Lake. The water temperature dropped from 16 degrees to four degrees. I used to work out for around an hour and constantly tried to make myself comfortable in cold water back then. I first started going into a bathtub filled with cold water. You start getting used to it after a while. Then, I started going into bathtubs half-filled with ice. Like so, I trained every day.
You can’t become a winter swimmer just by becoming used to cold water. It’s essential that you manage your diet. For example, I swim five to eight kilometers per training session on average, meaning I burn around 6,000 calories. I need protein and vitamins to recover lost energy. Even if you eat well and swim regularly, you need to improve your strength to improve your speed. It’s important to focus on all of these things or your rivals will beat you.
Coming in fifth or sixth place means I deceived myself and neglected my training. I must work hard to win a medal. I participated in eight swimming competitions in the last year-and-a-half. Five of them were international competitions. Out of 31 medals I won, 24 were gold.
Is winter swimming popular in Mongolia?
Many Mongolians train in swimming, but I’m the only one who does winter swimming. Young people try it out but never decide to continue doing it. Winter swimming requires immense amount of patience, endurance and discipline. Simply put, the water temperature of pools is usually 28 degrees, tap water is around 12 to 16 degrees, and kharz is eight degrees Celsius. Most people can’t stay in water at -2 degrees Celsius for more than five minutes. They’ll die immediately.
Yet, winter swimming competitions are held in -2 or -4 degrees Celsius waters. It’s an extreme sport. It requires significant training and endurance. Mongolia has become the 21st member of the International Winter Swimming Association (IWSA). I sent the request to join the association in 2016. It took a year for them to let us join because they needed to discuss it with all member states. Five people make up the IWSA board of directors. The president is a Filipino and the deputy is a Latvian-English person. There are Russian and German board members too.
How long have you been training in winter swimming?
I’ve been training in winter swimming for the last two years. I used to do bodybuilding as well as swimming. I liked water sports since I was a kid. I first started swimming when I was 13. I came first in the 1986 State Swimming Championships. I didn’t swim much while studying in Russia, though. At the time, I stopped entering swimming competitions and focused on bodybuilding. I participated in the Mister Mongolia bodybuilding competition five times and won three gold and one silver medals. I earned the Master of Sports title. I went back to swimming 28 years later in 2014.
Do you plan to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics?
Yes, because the maximum age limit for winter swimming is 104. I’m only 48 now. I’m still young. I’m at my peak swimming age. I’ve been swimming for 34 years and doing bodybuilding for 28 years. I’m able to continue swimming because I never stopped doing sports.
I used to train with a lot of people in the past, but they all stopped doing sports and got bellies. It’s the same everywhere in the world. People are deciding to stop swimming when they become a little bit older. I competed against 86 swimmers from 16 countries in the butterfly stroke event of a Chinese competition last year. Still, I got in first place. This is thanks to constant training. I left my job to pursue this life and so that I can reach the top.
I used to teach swimming in Bayangol District. I stopped coaching and became an athlete. Without quitting my job, I can’t succeed. I could work while training but my records would be only good for international events. I was able to get medals from World Swimming Cups and Championships because I quit my job and dedicated my entire life to training.
My next goals is the 2022 Winter Olympics. The timing is perfect. There’s still five years until the 2022. I’ll have plenty of time to challenge myself and improve. By 2022, I’ll only be 52 or 53. It’s no problem.
What do you plan to do in the near-future?
I’m trying to schedule one of IWSA’s World Championships in Mongolia between 2018 and 2019. There are six major World Winter Swimming Championships. I’m discussing to organize one of them in Khuvsgul Lake. It would be economically beneficial to host it here since winter swimming enthusiasts from every corner of the world would come to see it. This would open up opportunities to develop winter tourism and boost economic growth.
Tourists come to Mongolia mostly in summer. The number of tourists drastically fall in winter. Hosting a winter swimming competition in Mongolia would not only flourish winter tourism but also make more young people interested in the sport.
Something similar to an ice festival is held in Khuvsgul Province. I hope to organize the World Winter Swimming Championship before or after the festival because I think it would be better to have something else sports fans can watch besides the competition.
How did foreigners react when you took part in your first international competition?
They looked down on the skills of Mongolian swimmers. They didn’t even know Mongolia existed. In response to their insults, I told them that Mongolians could swim too and to watch me. Ultimately, I came in first place. After I won, people started to open up and realized that Mongolia has good swimmers.
Which swimming styles are you most confident in?
The butterfly stroke is my forte. The second competition I participated in was the World Swimming Cup held in China. The sixth Scandinavian Winter Swimming Championships took place from February 10 to 12 in Sweden. I didn’t enter it because, first of all, I wanted work on the mistakes I made at the competition in China. Secondly, I had some financial problems. Members of our Mongolian Winter Swimming Association (MWSA) are independent athletes so it’s financially difficult. I also don’t like to participate in competitions all the time since I have my own family and life. Our association covered all my expenses for entering the competition in China.
Can you tell us about MWSA? What’s MWSA’s plan for developing winter swimming in Mongolia?
N.Ider is the president of MWSA. Yu.Sodbileg and B.Bulgan are board members. We have one athlete – me. We made several plans. For example, we plan to compete with a team at the 2022 Winter Olympics. It’s mandatory to enter the Winter Olympics with a team so we’re trying to recruit three more people and train them well. We need two women and another man as required by the Olympic rules. Our first goal is to participate in scheduled competitions of IWSA, and later in the 2022 Winter Olympics.