An Olympic Lowlight

The 2016 Olympics featured some great moments—Neymar’s penalty kick, Simone Biles’ flawless acrobats, and Usain Bolt’s breakaway dashes. But this spectacle by Mongolian wrestling coaches takes the cake.

In the bronze medal match (65kg, men), the Mongolian wrestler (red) won the match 7-6. But he began celebrating in the final seconds, so the judge penalized him 1 point for disengaging and avoiding his opponent. The Mongolian team appealed and lost, which gave the Uzbek opponent another point, making him the bronze medal winner 8–7.

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Then the pants come flyin’ off! Two Mongolian coaches protest the decision by stripping before the judges and throwing objects in their direction. (NBC is aggressively protecting Olympic content. If the links is not working, search “Mongolian wrestling coach” on YouTube.)

Are there honor-shame dynamics going here? Are they bodily symbolizing their disgrace (like sackcloth and ashes symbolize shame for OT Israel)? Are they trying to publicly insult the judges? I can say that the Western announcer had little clue what was unfolding. 

If you have thoughts, leave a reply below. 


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11 Comments on “An Olympic Lowlight

  1. It certainly seemed to me to be honor/shame dynamics. I took it as “you’ve taken away our honor, let me physically demonstrate how you’ve made us feel – naked and on our knees in front of you.” I immediately thought of the “rending of clothes” and “sackcloth and ashes” ideas when I saw their reaction. I was thankful that he didn’t go ALL the way; at least he left his briefs on.

    It was also interesting to watch the Mongolian wrestler’s response, from the prostration at the start to his response to his coaches to his refusal to accept the decision and stand with the referee at the end.

  2. This is fascinating! Unfortunately, the Mongolian wrestler dishonored his country, his opponent, and the spirit of the Olympic games, by refusing to engage his opponent during the last few seconds, exercising arrogance instead. As a result, he and his country had the dishonor turned on them, and no amount of showy attempts undid the shame. The bottom line: Be sensitive to the situation in which you operate, whether as a Mongolian in an Olympic competition or a Westerner in an honor-shame society.

  3. Of course. They were expressing their disgust at the dishonor “unjustly” accredited to their country. “Look, you treat us like shameful naked outcasts! We mock your characterization of us to show that you (the judges) are obviously dishonorable in your judgement!”

  4. Great comments Joshua, Ant, and David.
    What I find interesting is how the two coaches sensed collective shame and intuitively knew how to embody and show such disgrace. In the heat of the moment, their mind automatically operates in that mode. I would have started arguing on the technicalities of the rule book in that situation. Publicly symbolizing humiliation would never come to mind. Even though I’ve examined honor-shame cultures for many years, I watched that video 5-6 times and was stunned (and entertained) each time by their reaction. Wow, cultural differences.

  5. It is interesting to consider the different cultures that all converge in this moment. Not only do you have the individual cultures these two wrestlers come from but also the international wrestling culture. You can see the Mongolian wrestler still maintaining an awareness of the sports culture as he acknowledges his competitor after the match and still shows him honor. I see both shame and a sense of being dishonored being displayed by the wrestler and the coaches. At the initiation of the penalty the wrestler and one of the coaches fall to the mat in (what appears to be) a sense of shame, realizing what has just occurred and why. the other coach, feeling dishonored displays that with the tearing off of his clothes. what is intriguing to me the actions of the second coach. It appears that he goes from trying to stop the other coach to joining him. Does he really feel dishonored by the judges or is he honoring his countryman and fellow coach?

  6. I’m still trying to understand honor & shame and I don’t get this at all. Their boy was penalized for shameful behavior right? But they didn’t agree and so started stripping to show that they too were disgraced by the penalty? Am I reading that right?

    Are the Olympic rules clear or unclear regarding disengaging and avoiding or is it a matter of the lack of sportsmanship that was being highlighted? This isn’t making sense to me. What is Mongolian news reporting?

    Ah, here’s some insight – “They [a Zasuul friend/coach] are usually an elder and a friend of the wrestler who is there on the field to serve as a guide and help set up a fair competition. Also, unlike other grappling sports, a Zasuul does not have to be a former wrestler… sometimes a zasuul will sing a praise of his wrestler to open a challenge from that side in the higher rounds, and the other side’s zasuul will also respond with his own praise of his wrestler. The poetic praise of a wrestler by his zasuul comes from the wrestler with the highest rank on that side.”

    So as mentioned above, they are together in the collective shame. They had to stand together with their guy.

    Although it should be noted, he acted shamefully –

    “Match courtesy

    Mongolian wrestling also has certain codes of conduct that concern more with good sportsmanship. For example, when a wrestler’s clothes get loose or entangled, his opponent is expected to stop attacking and help the former to re-arrange them—even though it might mean giving up a good winning opportunity. Also, when one contestant throws the other to the ground, he is supposed to help the latter get back on his feet, before he dances his way out of the field. After a bout one of the wrestlers go under the other’s arm to formally conclude the match. Whether winning or losing, good manners dictate that the two opponents shake hands and salute each other and the audience, both prior to and after a bout.”

    It turns out that Wrestling is HUGE HUGE HUGE in Mongolia…

  7. I also find it interesting that the Mongolian coaches’ behavior robs the Uzbekistan wrestler of the honor of his win. As he runs around the ring carrying his flag, no one is looking at him. They are looking at the coaches and chanting “Mon-go-lia!”

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