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The Nomadic Roots of Mongolian Sumo Success

How does a landlocked country with a population of 3 million manage to maintain its identity against the hyper-nationalism of neighbours like Russia, China and Japan? This is the question posed in Sumos, a project that focusses on Mongolia’s astonishing success at Sumo Wrestling. Between 2003 and 2014, the country dominated sumo, providing successive champions, — or yokozuna in Japan. It’s a success that has made sumo wrestling a path to fame, riches and a particular kind of glory for young boys in Mongolia, a tough, yet climatically fragile land of 3 million.

British photographer Catherine Hyland has spent months planning this unusual and challenging shoot. All the boys filmed now live in Ulaanbaatar, the nation’s capital, and many of them are from families who have recently migrated to the capital to survive the disastrously cold winters that have devastated the herds of livestock they once tended to survive. The resulting influx of people has changed the geographic landscape of the city into a patchwork quilt of Soviet-era tower blocks and parcels of land filled with the gers — or yurts — of recent migrants to the city.

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