Bicycle racer of the Aldar Sports Committee Ts.Solongo has won the National Junior, Youth and Adult Championships 11 times. She not only won a multi-day race in China but also returned home in triumph from the Chinggis Khaan Mountain Bike Race in Inner Mongolia in 2016. She delves into her sports journey in the following interview.
Mongolian female cyclers are reportedly training for the Asian Championships. Where will it take place this year?
Three Mongolian athletes will take part in the 2022 Asian Road and Para Cycling Championships, set to be held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan between March 25 and 29. I will compete in the women’s elite category. We prepared on the road in early February and also spent 10 days in Umnugovi Province training. The team category has been added to the race this year. Compared to other countries, Mongolia has fewer female cyclists. Therefore, we are preparing local athletes who have successfully competed in domestic competitions.
Due to timing and season, cyclists plan not to compete in any other competition before the Asian Championships. How successfully do you think you and the others will be?
This year’s big race will start with the Asian Championships. It is actually better to compete in one or two races before the big competition. It is said that a bad race is better than good training. In Mongolia, it is not easy to train on road in winter. So I train in the gym hall in order not to interrupt my training. If Mongolian female bikers were able to race regularly like foreigners, they could succeed. We train with the male athletes of our team, so I think we will be quite competitive in the Asian Championships in terms of speed, strength and endurance.
You participated in the 2017 Asian Road Cycling Championships in Bahrain and the 2019 Military World Games in Wuhan, China, right?
I took seventh place in the relay race event and 11th place in the mass start event of the 2017 Asian Championships. Racing in mass start suits me better because it tests our speed at a distance of more than 100 kilometers. Currently, it is not possible to fully train female athletes in the mass start and relay races in Mongolia only. That’s why we train in road, mountain bike, mass start and relay races. In fact, training athletes in each category helps them produce better results in competitions. To succeed in a big race, we have to race well, even in the relay event.
I heard that you are a student of N.Narmandakh. When did you start cycling?
I became interested in this sport on my own. As a child, I enjoyed cycling with my peers. When I saw my classmate dressed for a race, I asked him where the race was and told him I wanted to participate as well. In the spring of 2005, when I won the Khan-Uul District Championships by chance, I met my mentor and coach N.Narmandakh for the first time. He asked me, “Do you want to race in the future?” I replied, “Yes.” I was inspired by that competition and have been training hard ever since. I think I succeeded in many competitions because my teacher taught me the basics well for my future training.
Did you expect to win that competition?
No, I never thought I would win a gold medal. Out of curiosity, I raced to see what the cycling race was like. Before participating in the competition, my classmate said, “There is a girl who has been cycling for a long time. If you follow her, you can win a medal.” I caught up with her and thought, “Would it be right to race like this and finish?” Bicycles have been an integral part of my life since that day.
Did that race motivate you to enter other competitions back then?
That summer, my teacher invited me to participate in the Junior National Championships. I fell and injured my leg while training before the mountain bike race. At the time, not being able to compete was more painful than the injury and I cried so hard because it hurt my pride. Then I asked my teacher and parents to train for the competition for a few days. Fortunately, they agreed and I promised I’d bear with whatever the consequences were after the competition, and that’s how I came to win the race. When I saw a girl from Tuv Province who had won six gold and one silver medal in the competition, I thought, “If I hadn’t been injured, I would have succeeded and won many medals like her.” At the time, I only competed in one event due to my leg injury.
You must have needed a lot of courage and patience back then, right?
After I was injured, my mother forbade me from cycling. My family members said, “Cycling is hard for girls. It’s better to study instead.” But I was over the moon when my father encouraged me to take up this sport. Since then, I have competed in the Junior, Youth and Adult National Championships, winning 11 times. I think I stayed true to the sport because I was good at it.
You became a mother after participating in the 2017 Asian Championships and took a break from cycling. How confident are you about the upcoming competition?
It was challenging for me to train after I became a mother. In the past, I focused only on training and succeeding, but now I have additional responsibilities to family and child. To make a living, my husband and I run a private business at the Kharkhorin market. When I returned to cycling, I realized many things. Therefore, I put my husband in charge of my personal affairs so that I can pay attention to only my training and aim to win a medal at the Asian Championships this year. Doing many things at once without giving up my favorite sport was difficult at first. Realizing that all of this is a necessity of life, I now cook for my husband and child early in the morning before going out to train.
How did you encourage and sharpen yourself when your family didn’t support you?
Most of the time, I’m busy playing sports, training, and competing. Sometimes I go for a few days to train in rural areas. My husband is not a sportsman, so at first, he didn’t understand what an athlete’s life was like. He used to say, “You’ve been cycling for years. You should now think about your work and your life. Let’s work together.” Gradually, he and my family acknowledged my decision to pursue cycling and now, my parents are taking care of my child. Athletes need the support of those close to them. If not supported, they are faced with the choice of sticking to the sport or staying with their family. My family supported me because I was successful. Without their help, I can’t do any work or train. Now my husband says, “Focus on what you want. I will do my job and support you as much as I can.” I quit sports for a year, started my own business, and made a lot of money. But working in the market all day and coming home in the evening was boring. At the time, I felt like I was wasting my time. Making money while staying away from sports was not satisfying for me. Now, I feel invigorated to work and live. I am an athlete in the morning, a saleswoman during the day, and a mother and wife in the evening. In this way, I am moving forward for my success.
Can you tell me how you passed the high threshold of the Aldar Sports Committee?
During my five years training under coach N.Narmandakh, I was very successful. As a student in 2010, I tried to manage everything without the involvement of my parents. One day, I talked to my coach and told him, “I want to be an athlete of the Aldar Sports Committee. Even when I get older, I will ride the bicycle, so I want to work for a guaranteed organization and get paid well.” From then until 2021, I raced for 10 years under Division No. 011 of the Armed Forces. I am happy that the Armed Forces has continued to support me and helped me participate in many competitions. This year, I became an athlete of the Aldar Sports Committee. When I joined this committee, I trained for a while under coach N.Dorj. After his retirement, coach T.Tuguldur took over. He ended his athletic career in 2018 and has been working as a coach since. He trains us with modern methods and techniques.
At what age do female athletes reach their peak of success?
Women compete well between the age of 18 to 25. This is usually the peak of their sports career. After the age of 25, they mostly take care of their family and children. My daughter is four years old now. Having another child will mean the end of my athletic career. Athletes strive to succeed at a young age. I promised my daughter to give her a younger sibling after this year’s Asian Championships. Cycling is a technical sport. The more years we race, the more techniques we acquire. For me, if I don’t have to retire because of the needs of life, I will compete in races until I am 35 years old. I’m the only female cyclist left in Mongolia right now. Now I am 32 years old but still competing against 20 and 21- year old girls.
If you retire, will you focus on your private business?
It’s nice to do what you love and enjoy in life. Even if I retire, I won’t get off the bike. My husband likes cycling more than driving a car. To avoid traffic jams, I ride my bicycle to work. Mongolia doesn’t have a professional female cycling coach. So I think I will become a coach after finishing my athletic career. An athlete must have the courage and purpose to succeed in sports. I wanted to win a medal at the 2017 Asian Championships in Bahrain, but I wasn’t able to. At the time, I put some important things in my life aside and trained as best as I could. I arrived there on the day of the race, so I didn’t have time to study the race route. I competed in the race without warm-up and took seventh place. Although I had trained well, I regretted that I could not succeed because of other factors. I was frustrated after the race and thought about quitting the sport.
How do you feel when you see your gold medals?
I don’t count the medals I won but many of them are gold and silver. There are no bronze medals among them. In 2016, I won a multi-day race in China and wore the yellow jersey of the champion. I also participated in the Chinggis Khaan mountain bike competition, organized in Inner Mongolia, five times and won it in 2012, 2016 and 2019. I keep my trophies, medals and shirts as souvenirs. I like getting inspired when I see my awards. There is no national cycling team in Mongolia. This issue has been discussed many times, but it has not been resolved yet. If the national team is formed, both male and female cyclists will be able to compete in foreign competitions. International female cyclists compete in professional teams. We need to form a professional team, participate in foreign competitions and improve our skills.