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Photos: Nearly 900 compete in XIII European Sauna Marathon in Otepää

After a warmup day in Tõrva on Friday, nearly 900 saunagoers from 13 different countries descended on Otepää, Estonia's "winter capital," on Saturday to compete in the XIII European Sauna Marathon. Competing teams had to sweat it out in 16 different saunas, including one in an old tram car and another quite literally suspended in the air.

The European Sauna Marathon is one place you can both blow off some steam and compete to see who is the toughest saunagoer.

With added nuances like 15-minute penalties for missing a sauna and 10-minute time bonuses for taking a dip in an ice hole or jumping in a hot tub together, the four-member team able to sweat through all the participating saunas in and around Otepää the fastest – spending at least three minutes in each – is declared the winner.

Not everyone came to Southern Estonia to compete, however.

"Some came to race against the clock; we came to relish it," said competitor Martin Taklaja. "I've only missed the first sauna marathon; I've participated in every other one to date."

Many of the competitors in Otepää are also not just diehard saunagoers, but good with costumes too. Limited only by their imaginations, sauna marathoners delighted spectators at the event with group costumes including Easter bunnies, construction workers, the Flintstones and even blue and white striped Sipsik ragdolls. And as one family team from along the shore of Lake Võrtsjärv demonstrated, taking sauna by no means requires one to get naked.

"It was great; I started getting warm," said Viive Mees, part of a team that had just entered a hot tub in matching bucket hats, striped shirts and fishing wader overalls. "Earlier I'd started getting a little chilly already. See, after waiting like that you have to go warm up right away. No, it's very cozy; I'm not complaining."

This year's sauna marathon in Otepää even gave competitors the chance to enjoy some heavenly leil – in a sauna quite literally suspended between the earth and the heavens by a crane.

"A sauna like that really does look very cool," said Rimo, another competitor, adding that it's the "sports and sauna – two in one" that attracted him to the event.

Sauna providers try to outdo themselves each year as well. For example, Indrek Tepo, a lifelong bus driver, wanted a tram for Christmas – and ended up getting what he asked for.

"And then we thought, with the sauna marathon coming, then let's put a sauna in there too already," Tepo said.

Asked how one builds a sauna in a tram, he quipped, "Very simple – stick a sauna heater in there and that's it – you're done! It's that easy."

For Otepää residents, sauna marathon day is a happy day, Tepo said. "We look forward to this," he acknowledged.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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