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Sauna World Championships

Tragic Death in World Sauna Championship

The latest Sauna World Championships ended in tragedy on Saturday 7th August 2010 when one of the finalists died. Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy, a Russian amateur wrestler, in his 60's, along with rival veteran Timo Kaukonen both collapsed with severe burns after about 6 minutes into the round.

Sadly, Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy died late on Saturday. Hakon Eikesdal, a Norwegian photographer reported that both were shaking and bleeding from what appeared to be severe burns. Ossi Arvela, a competition organiser said that the competition will never be held again after this tragic occurrence. Timo Kaukonen is reported to be in stable condition in hospital as of Sunday.

Tapio from Lahti, Finland comments: "I'll begin by saying that the temperature or the duration of the stay aren't the worst parts, it's the humidity that hurts and in this competition 0.5 litres of water is tossed on the hot stones every 30 seconds. That's what I call insane! Most Finns don't look up to these people who just want to see who has the biggest tolerance for pain by scalding themselves. I for one enjoy bathing in a sauna and feel that sauna is a nicely warm place for people to escape daily routines, not about searing oneself. If anyone of you ever visit Finland and still - after this horrible incident - dare to visit a sauna, please do! It just might change your minds!"

Have you ever heard of the Sauna World Championships? Most people haven't. The Sauna World Championships are held every August in Heinola, Finland. Thousands of sauna hungry spectators flock to the sauna competition while 50+ take part in the event. So what are the Sauna World Championships? It's quite simple, the competition tests to see who can stay in a hot, sweltering sauna the longest. Sounds crazy? It's true, hard men and women push their bodies to the limits in front of thousands of spectators and TV audiences. Some do it for fun, others to appease their competitive nature, while some do it to prove they have the most guts to withstand the fiery sauna heat the longest.

Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy

What sauna temperatures are reached?

Before the contestant starts, the sauna is pre-heated to 110°C, that's already 20-30°C higher than the average person will stay in a sauna. For those who work in Fahrenheit, that's 230 Fahrenheit. Considering that water boils at 100°C, you get some idea of the stress the competitors are putting their bodies through. However, saying this, sauna heat is different to the heat of the normal English summer where the sauna has a low humidity of 10-25%. This means the body can cool itself more efficiently as sweat can evaporate more easily, taking along with it the body's heat.

Throw onto the sauna stones another löyly blast

Every thirty seconds, half a litre of water is thrown onto the hot sauna. This löyly blast substantially increases the temperature of the sauna. Gas mark 1 on an oven is 140°C, therefore with each löyly blast the sauna becomes more and more like an oven. The contestants have to sit with their buttocks and thighs on the bench, with their elbows on their knees, their arms raised, with a good posture. The contestant has to stay in this position and if they touch their skin they are disqualified. If they can't make it out of the sauna by themselves and need the help of an official, they are disqualified. The rules are strict, but needless to say, this competition isn't for the weak of heart.

Males and females do not compete against each other. Males compete against males and females compete against females. The winners of the competition tend to be from Finland who have grown up using saunas for two to four times a week. This constant use of saunas acclimatizes these contestants for the extreme temperature they will encounter in the Sauna World Championships. Fervent sauna competitors from all around the world try their sauna endurance here in Heinola. Below are the winners of the Sauna World Championships since 1999:

1999Ahti Merivirta (Finland)Katri Kämäräinen (Finland)
2000Leo Pusa (Finland)Katri Kämäräinen (Finland)
2001Leo Pusa (Finland)Annikki Peltonen (Finland)
2002Leo Pusa (Finland)Annikki Peltonen (Finland)
2003Timo Kaukonen (Finland)Natallia Tryfanava (Belarus)
2004Leo Pusa (Finland)Natallia Tryfanava (Belarus)
2005Timo Kaukonen (Finland)Natallia Tryfanava (Belarus)
2006Timo Kaukonen (Finland)Leila Kulin (Finland)
2007Timo Kaukonen (Finland)Leila Kulin (Finland)
2008Bjarne Hermansson (Finland)Leila Kulin (Finland)
2009Timo Kaukonen (Finland)Tatyana Arkhipenko (Russia)
2010Competition suspended due to tragic death of Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy.

Sauna at 110°C+

The 2003 champion and world record holder Timo Kaukonen, stayed in the sauna for a massive 16 minutes 15 seconds. Some competitors don't even last two minutes, and some of the most seasoned sauna users only manage to last five to six minutes. At first glance staying in a sauna for 5-6 minutes doesn't sound too difficult, let alone 16 minutes. The starting temperature of the sauna in the Championships is 110°C and this heat is increased every 30 seconds. With this in mind and knowing the contestants only stop when their body is at its limits, it's not recommended to try such a feat. To paint you a sharper picture, many contestants experience first degree burns and have red and pink blotchy skin after experiencing such heat for this short amount of time. That doesn't sound too tempting, does it?

I recommend the use of a sauna for pleasure and health, not as an extreme sport! However, if you are determined to become the next Timo Kaukonen, seek medical advice before you start. Most people who enter the competition are seasoned sauna users and have been using them consistently for many years.

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