The five-time champion Timo Kaukonen is on the right. The video is from before the the fateful final where a Russian finalist died and Kaukonen nearly died.
Another sport that Russians are very good at sauna bathing. Yes, it really is a sport. A world championship event was held annually in Heinola, Finland, between 1999 and 2010. The event grew large enough to have contestants from 20 countries.
The rules were the following:
- The starting temperature is 110 degrees Celsius. Half a litre of water will be poured on the stove every 30 seconds.
- Use of alcohol is prohibited prior to and during the competition.
- Competitors must wash themselves beforehand, and remove any creams and lotions.
- Competitor must sit erect, their buttocks and thighs on the bench.
- Ordinary swimsuits must be used. Pant legs in men's swimsuits may be up to 20 centimetres long, and women's shoulder straps may be up to 5 centimetres wide.
- Hair that reaches the shoulders must be tied into a ponytail.
- Touching the skin and brushing is prohibited.
- Competitors must not disturb each other.
- At the request of the judges, competitors must show that they are in their senses with a thumbs up.
- Competitors must be able to leave the sauna unaided to qualify.
- A breach of the rules results in a warning. Another one results in disqualification.
- The last person leaving the sauna unaided is the winner.
The starting temperature of the sauna was 110 C. Half a liter of water was poured on the stove every 30 seconds. In the finals, six men and women would sit in the sauna and see how would be able to withstand it the longest and walk out unaided.
The sauna bathing competitions were nearly always dominated by the host country. The only non-Finnish winner ever was Natalia Tryfanava of Belarus in 2003.
In the last competition held in 2010, there were two men left in in the final, Timo Kaukonen of Lahti, Finland, and Vladimir Ladyzhenski of Russia. They had been inside for six minutes, which was two minutes longer than in the previous year. Suddenly, Ladyzhenski collapses. Both men are carried out of the sauna with their skins burned and convulsing. Ladyzhenski dies on the spot shortly after being carried out. Kaukonen is taken to the Töölö hospital in Helsinki where he is kept in a coma for six weeks. He also has burns in his internal organs according to doctors. The prognosis given is death. But he survives after a three-month stay in hospitals both in Helsinki and Lahti.
The autopsy of Ladyzhenski revealed that he had taken painkillers.
Timo Kaukonen is a sauna therapist these days. 70% of his skin was burned and he needed a lot of skin grafts and the event left him scarred for life. He hasn't given up for sauna bathing but he says he will never compete again.
The web page of Timo Kaukonen's therapeutic sauna: Saunansisu
There is a public sauna in Lapinniemi, Tampere, that has an oversized stove, which is why the temperature inside is usually around 110 C, while it normally is 80-90 C in people's home saunas and in saunas at spas, public swimpools, gyms and such places. But the craziest sauna I've ever heard of is one at the Kalashnikov arms factory near Jekaterinburg, Russia. It's heated with natural gas and the temperature is normally about 130 C. A Finnish businessman I once met on a train told me about it. He had been to it himself while selling the metal products of his company there.
Such high temperatures may be explained by the fact that the norm in Finnish saunas, both public and private (there is sex separation for children above about 7-8 years and up), is to go in completely naked. In contrast, in Russian saunas, one typically uses a felt cap. That makes it somewhat easier to tolerate a little higher temperatures because the sauna goers ears won't burn.