World Sauna Championships

in Heinola, Finland

World Sauna Championships

Words by Michael J. Rosen

"This Is How Hell Must Feel"

- Sauna Heinola, the organizing body of the World Sauna Championships

The best competitions make leisure into sport, like turning an afternoon of watching flicks into a movie marathon. In Finland, where there are 1.5 million saunas for 5 million people, organizations of World Sauna Championships did just that with the first competition in 1999. Annually, over 160 competitors from nearly 25 countries travel to Heinola, to see who can endure the longest, hottest sauna.

According to the official site, all entrants must assume the same position: sitting erect with buttocks and thighs on the seat, forearms on the knees, and arms upright, with the hands touching no other part of the body. Turns out, a 230-degree Fahrenheit wooden box that grows hotter every 30 seconds as water is poured onto the sauna's stove, can make a person look as if "a waffle iron had been repeatedly pressed" against the skin, as one competitor described it. As heat and steam increase, there's less and less oxygen to breathe: Indeed, it's not the heat, but the humidity that drives competitors from the sauna.

One other competition bylaw: "Disturbing the other competitors in any way is strictly forbidden," although it's tough to imagine anyone making jokes about "not knowing your heinie from Heinola" after 18 minutes and 15 seconds - Finn Bjarne Hermansson's winning time in the 2008 competition.

It's Not the Heat, It's the Stupidity

This customized thermometer, in degrees Fahrenheit, should help you appreciate the heat-seeking nature of these temperature-taunting athletes.

What Happens at
starting temperature at the World Sauna Championships
proper brewing temperature for a cup of coffee
195 205
a pot of water comes to the simmer (sea level)
average sauna
170 190
max. setting for the amazing slimmerizing sauna belt
cranked up steam room
eggs begin to cook
chocolate burns
the ideal temperature to enjoy a Coke according to Coca-Cola
water freezes
well-shaken martini, neat

This competition sounds like no sweat? Think again.

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