ULAANBAATAR: It is another cold wintry morning in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, but the chill is not stopping 16-year-old high school student Ariuntuya, who is training to become a sumo wrestler.
Her coach inspired her to pick up the sport professionally, she said: "I decided to become a sumo wrestler because this year I fought with her for the first time, and it was really cool.”
Ariuntuya is aiming for her first sumo competition soon, and to make sure she’s ready, she trains for about two hours every day.
Besides their training regime, female sumo wrestlers have to follow a strict diet to keep their fighting weight.
There are four weight categories from under 65kg to over 80kg, but because the heavier weight categories can be competitive, Ariuntuya is trying to keep her weight down.
“I don’t want to be put in the plus-sized category, as they’re much stronger," she said. "So I need to lose weight to get in the lower weight categories - it’s easier to compete there.”
While sumo wrestling may be Japan’s oldest sport, Mongolian sumo wrestlers are among the very few foreigners who have reached the highest rank of the sumo hierarchy, the Yokozuna.
Women, however, can only participate in amateur events, so the prize money is negligible.
Sumo coach Tserenkhand said that initially, it was hard to get women interested in the sport because of a lack of understanding and the perception of Japanese sumo wrestling being about two naked people wrestling.
But that has changed, she said.
While there are no official statistics on the number of female sumo wrestlers in Mongolia, Ms Tserenkhand said more women from all sectors of Mongolian society are signing up to learn the sport.
“Sumo wrestling connects to our traditional wrestling styles because we have all sorts of techniques in our wrestling. Moreover, we have it in our blood, so most Mongolian women can really persevere. They have the drive to succeed," she said.