World Sauna Championships: How to Not Hold an Event

Sauna
Get ready for combat!

After our satirical post on the World Soy Sauce Drinking Championship, we remembered a story about the World Sauna Championships we read years ago.

This was a real endurance event held in Heinola, Finland, between 1999 and 2010.

In the final competition, tragedy struck when the finalists died after trying to outdo each other in 110 °C (230 °F) heat. The organisers then decided close the competition.

The World Sauna Championships

Right, so it began in 1999 and eventually contestants from over 20 nations took to competing.

As you might have worked out already, the idea was to see who could sit in a roasting hot sauna for the longest. Men and women competed separately.

Although the Finnish Sauna Society was utterly opposed to the event, the organisers went ahead anyway despite the obvious health risks.

All participants had to sign a health waiver and took part at their own risk.

But despite the simple sounding nature of the contest, there were plenty of rules to adhere to. These included:

  • A starting temperature of 110 °C (that’s 230 °F).
  • All competitors be clean and washed before taking part.
  • No clothing items were allowed (presumably they could wear something to cover up rude bits, such as the big toe on the right foot).
  • No consuming alcohol during (or before) the event.
  • No disturbing other competitors during the event. Which is a shame, as psychological trickery would have been great.
  • Tie long hair into a ponytail.
  • Use “ordinary” swimsuits to garb onself.
  • Breaching rules led to a warning. A second would mean instant disqualification.

Whilst it all sounds very jolly and in good fun, back in 2010 everything went wrong in the final event.

The 2010 Event

7th August, 2010, and the World Sauna Championships came to an end. Russian Vladimir Ladyzhensky and Finnish five-time champion Timo Kaukonen went head-to-head in a heated battle for the crown.

The pair walked into 110 °C (230 °F) and managed to withstand the temperatures for six minutes before it became apparent they were suffering from terrible burns.

Ossi Arvela, one of the organisers, defended the temperature stating that many other contestants had managed to endure hotter environments.

""All the rules were followed and there were enough first aid personnel. All the competitors needed to sign in to the competition with a doctor's certificate ... I know this is very hard to understand to people outside Finland who are not familiar with the sauna habit. It is not so unusual to have 110 degrees in a sauna. A lot of competitors before have sat in higher temperatures than that."

In April 2011, it was announced the event would be coming to an end. The “joyous” and “playful” nature of the championship tarnished, it’s consigned to the sin bin of bad ideas.

19 comments

  1. I don’t know everything about saunas, but it seems to me tying the hair into a ponytail is a very responsible rule.
    I, however, prefer a steam bath!

    Like

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