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Finland Hosts Sauna World Championships

August 2, 2003

HEINOLA, Finland (AP) _ Sweat-oozing men and women from 15 countries competed Saturday to see who could last the longest in 230-degree heat to take the Sauna World Championship title in southern Finland.

Watched carefully by judges and doctors, Belarussian Natalia Trifanova snatched the Sauna Queen title from local favorite Annikki Peltonen _ last year’s winner _ with a time of 13 minutes.

``I’m pink but happy,″ beamed Trifanova, 36, a music teacher from Minsk, displaying blotchy red neck and arms. ``I got a lot of satisfaction sitting in there today. It’s an extreme sport for me.″

Runner-up Peltonen reeled out of the wooden cubicle 12 seconds before the champion, saved from collapsing to the ground by a team of vigilant stewards.

Timo Kaukonen, from nearby Lahti, panted to the men’s title with a time of 16 minutes 15 seconds, beating three-time champion Leo Pusa from the capital, Helsinki, by 7 seconds.

About 3,000 people cheered wildly as the 12 finalists sweated it out in Heinola during a record three-week heat wave that didn’t seem to bother the contestants.

Defying the scalding heat, intensified by showers of water released every 30 seconds on the scorching stove stones, the six women and men sat in separate wide-windowed hexagonal saunas on the stage of an outdoor theater in this sleepy lakeside town.

Finns normally have a sauna once or twice a week, but they bathe naked _ unlike the contestants, who wore swimming suits.

``We needed some sort of aesthetic cover for our contestants,″ said Matti Nieminen, the manager of the event. ``Otherwise, people wouldn’t enter.″

But, Nieminen conceded, organizers might have to start stipulating the kind of swim wear allowed as new, heat resistant materials could make for unfair competition.

``Like in all major sports, for example swimming and ski jumping, materials are important. That’s the case here too,″ he said.

Luke Edwards of Sydney, Australia, who lasted 3 minutes 4 seconds in the first round, was a bit worried when paramedics peered in through the sauna windows.

``It’s only the fifth sauna I’ve been in, and 100 degrees Celsius (212 Fahrenheit) isn’t exactly comfortable. I burnt my ears,″ he said. ``But I beat nine people so I guess that’s not too bad.″

The 65 men and 15 women competitors included heat freaks from Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine and the Baltic countries.

Regulations are strict.

Contestants must have a doctor’s certificate to prove they are fit. No rubbing of the skin or slouching is allowed, and elbows must be held on one’s knees. All forms of doping, including being intoxicated, are strictly forbidden.

``We’ve handed out a few red cards this year, mainly to people who have rubbed their skin,″ Nieminen said. ``But otherwise it’s been fair play.″

Kalle Luukkainen, 31, who stopped by to watch the contest with his wife and baby, felt the Finnish sauna tradition was being taken too far. ``I think these people need their heads tested. It just seems totally stupid,″ he said.

Zad Abderrahim, from Rabat, Morocco, fell out in the opening heats on Friday, after 2 minutes 38 seconds.

``Sure, it’s a bit crazy, but I like crazy things,″ he said. ``I’m going to be back next year.″

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