World sauna contest ends as contestant dies in 110C room

A Russian man trying to win the Sauna World Championships died after collapsing with severe burns in the final stage of an event that required contestants to sit in a 110C room as water was tossed on to a searing stove, officials and witnesses said.

Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy, an amateur wrestler who was in his 60s, was pronounced dead late on Saturday after he collapsed beside the reigning champion, Timo Kaukonen of Finland, roughly six minutes into the final round.

Nearly 1,000 spectators had gathered in the southern Finnish town of Heinola to watch 130 competitors from 15 countries, waving flags and cheering on the contestants before medical workers pulled the shaking and bleeding men out of the sauna. Video footage shows workers pouring cold water over the two men and administering first aid as organisers tried to cover up the scene and calm spectators.

The men were bleeding from what appeared to be severe burns, said Hakon Eikesdal, a photographer with the Norwegian daily Dagbladet.

Mr Ladyzhenskiy headed a charity fund in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk. The fund's spokesman Konstantin Kruglyansky told the LifeNews daily that his family has demanded an investigation into his death.

Mr Kaukonen, in his 40s, who was hospitalised, was in a stable condition yesterday, contest spokesman Ossi Arvela said. The annual contest has been held since 1999, but it will never be held again, Mr Arvela added.

In the competition, a pint of water is added to the stove every 30 seconds and the last person to remain in the sauna is the winner. There is no prize other than "some small things", according to Mr Arvela. He declined to provide details.

Mr Eikesdal said Mr Kaukonen had refused to leave the sauna, despite getting sick, and that organisers eventually had to force the men out.

Visiting saunas is a popular pastime in the Nordic countries and Russia, but especially in Finland, which has an estimated 1.6 million saunas for a population of 5 million. Temperatures are normally kept around 70-80C.

"I know this is very hard to understand to people outside Finland who are not familiar with the sauna habit," Mr Arvela said. "It is not so unusual to have 110 degrees in a sauna. A lot of competitors before have sat in higher temperatures than that."

According to a research report from 2008, the annual death rate in Finnish saunas was less than two per 100,000 inhabitants, or 100 Finns a year. It said most deaths were because of natural causes, such as heart problems, and that half of the deaths occurred under the influence of alcohol. A quarter of the deaths were the direct result of the heat exposure.

Mr Arvela said that all the rules in Saturday's competition were followed and that the temperatures and times were similar to those in previous years. He added that police are investigating the death.