As a wacky sports enthusiast and frequent participant in seemingly pointless contests, I was saddened to learn of the tragic end to the World Sauna Competition in Finland.
The contest came down to two men: Russian contestant Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy and five-time champion Timo Kaukonen. For more than six minutes, neither man would budge from the sauna. Finally, contest referees pulled them out of the 230-degree heat. Ladyzhenskiy collapsed. Both men were rushed to the hospital, but Ladyzhenskiy later died.
Organizers said the contest, which started in 1999, will never be held again. After seeing the pictures of Ladyzhenskiy’s burnt, scorched skin, it’s easy to see why.
I don’t mean to minimize Ladyzhenskiy’s death, but canceling the contest might be the wrong decision.
That’s because calling off an event that goes tragically awry probably won’t stop others’ desire to compete. If that were the case, people would have stopped climbing mountains years ago and the annual Running of the Bulls would be ancient history. Likewise, I find it hard to believe that this death will stop the phenomenon of competitive sauna sitting, especially in a country well known for its alcohol consumption and sauna use. Other contests may pop up between friends. They may push the limits well beyond 230 degrees. More deaths may result.
Instead, the contest organizers should assume leadership roles and revise the rules. By maintaining the contest, they can set the standard for any rogue contests that may take place. Naturally, they can start by decreasing the maximum temperature somewhere below the point at which water boils.
In doing so, they may even save some lives in the future.