Unfortunately in early April 2019 this man lost his life in a road accident. Here is the amazing story of Oggi, the Mongolian who took on the world…
He came from outer Mongola
For more than two decades a pioneering bike racer from Mongolia has been rampaging, successfully, all over the world. This is the story of Oggi, not Ghengis.
Barcelona 1992; It was to be the last of the “true” idealistic Olympic Games. The Berlin Wall had fallen, and communism had faded into socialism, and the great sporting divide between amateur and professional was also about to fall to one side.
For many years the mighty eastern block riders had been totally dominant in the amateur ranks, practically unbeatable. Due to the constraints of communism they had never been allowed to race as, or with, the professionals. Now they were slowly being allowed by their liberally evolving governments to take up professional contracts – usually with great proportions of their salary going back to the state. This was to be the last Olympics for both the “true”, and the full time eastern block “amateurs.” It was also the last in which minority nations such as Mongolia were automatically granted starting grid slots. These days it comes largely down to UCI points gained, hardly the Olympic ideal.
Heading into the final ten kilometres of the men’s road race and a trio of riders had clipped off the front to clean up the podium slots. The late Fabio Casartelli was destined to take the gold medal from Erik Dekker, and was to take up the offer of a pro contract with Motorola.
Behind them were the remnants of the eastern block riders who would later turn professional too (like Erik Zabel). Back in 14thslot was a certain Lance Armstrong, who was also later to take up a pro contract with the same Motorola team. And as they say the rest is history.
But, if it hadn’t been for one rider choosing to ride the wrong way down the course (after retiring from the race) cycling history may have been a little bit different. Just behind the leading three was a small group of about 5 riders, who were set to snap up the rest of the top places. In this group was a lone Mongolian rider - Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh, better known as Oggi. The retired Filipino rider riding in the opposite direction crashed into the group, flooring Oggi, and leaving him to finish in 79thspot, a tragic twist of fate for the 24 year old.
Mongolia is one of the most extreme and far flung places you can imagine, and certainly not the kind of place you expect to produce a world class bike racer, as Oggi explains; “Crappy roads, bad traffic manners, terrible weather (temperatures from minus 20 to plus 45 degrees), and you can only ride outside between April and October. But mountain biking is possible here.” During the extended winter months the local riders train on rollers; Oggi trains for 6 hours at a time on them, even 8 hours some days, as do some of the talented young riders he now looks after in his roll with the national cycling federation.
The nation was once known for it’s conquering warrior emperors such as Genghis and Kubla Khan, and is still very much an expansive region of grasslands and nomadic horsemen, and is still a socialist state. Back in the Soviet era Mongolia was considered a satellite state, as Oggi continues; “We were closely linked to Russia, not China. In those days many Mongolians went to Russia to study cycling, and many Russian coaches came to work here. We had a lot of riders then, but the standard was not so high.”
As you can imagine television and media was not as free back then as it is these days. But events such as the Olympics did make the small screen in Mongolia; “It was in 1980 that I first saw cycling on TV, the Olympic Games. It was then that I decided to become a cyclist. I went to the cycling school, but they rejected me. It took 3 years until they accepted me. I was then 17, and became national junior champion. The following year I joined the national team and became senior champion.”
The international amateur scene was seriously tough back then; and Oggi’s and the national team’s program consisted of events such as the Peace Race, which was then considered the Tour de France for amateurs, and he finished 56thin his first appearance at the tender age of 18.
As things opened up some more he was allowed to spend a little time racing in Italy during 1991, and impressed enough to be offered a contract with the leading Gatorade team of Gianni Bugno (two time World Champ); “My ambition was always to attend the Tour de France. But being as I was unable to start the Tour or the Giro I see it pointless to reflect now. I am just a small Mongolian rider. Maybe the Mongolian factor was the interesting thing for them.“ The truth is that he was unable to take up the offer as the state kept control of his passport.
Despite the frustration of the Olympics, the following year also opened up new opportunities or Oggi. But an early season car accident saw his training partner and best friend die in his arms, and left him confined to hospital for many months.
As he slowly fought back to strength he took up the opportunity to study in Russia; “After 1992 Olympics I went to Kiev to study at Kiev University of Physical Culture. But instead of studying I was mostly racing. My future wife was also studying in Kiev at that time, and we together were discovering other things too.”
With his racing fairly confined to Asia Oggi set about making his own way; “There has been no assistance from the state or anywhere like that. Only a few good friends and supporters have helped me to keep racing over the years.” The race scene in Asia has developed dramatically over the past 10 years, and standards of races and riders are now very high; with many European, US, and Australian continental and national teams racing part of their seasons on eastern soil. This, along with the easing of restrictions, allowed Oggi to travel the world and race with the continental Marco Polo team.
You only need to mention the name Oggi to an Asian cyclist or anyone who has raced in the region and you’ll get a huge and respectful grin; as former team mate and manager Remko Kramer explains; “Oggi has a heart of gold, and is so friendly to everyone. But on the bike he is as hard as nails, and very smart. I have never known anybody able to suffer like him.” His guts and experience are truly admirable; “In one race in Japan he was with 2 Japanese riders; one was a great sprinter. They were both watching him – he had no chance. Into the last kilometre they looked forward. Oggi throws his water bottle at a metal sign-board; they both look to see what happened and he jumped on the opposite side and won the stage.”
A harsh climate and conditions makes for tough cookies when it comes to Mongolian cyclists, as Oggi demonstrated a few years back in the Sea Otter Classic in the USA; “He came from minus 20 degrees with no outside training. A TV car crashed him in the time trial. He was coughing blood going into the final hilly road stage, and then his gear shifter broke. The climb saw the other riders on 39x23. He only had the big-ring and still made the second group.” When he returned home they found he had a punctured lung.
In his seven years with Marco Polo Oggi raced and won all over the world, often alongside the real big hitters in races like Tour de Langkawi and the Tour of Qatar; “For some reason I always found racing in the US difficult, maybe it was the time of year. In Europe ok, but I’m just a Mongolian rider – there are no special discounts.”
In 2007 he was still winning, but fate had another twist, and at the age of 41 his international racing carer was cut short; “I was diagnosed with bone cancer, a result of race crash in 2003 during the Tour of Chong Ming, China. My general condition got worse and in late 2008 I went to South Korea for treatment and surgery. My big fan and friend Kim Dong Hwan arranged things and supported me in Korea. During that time only few true good friends were left with me, and they supported me throughout the difficult time. I hope that now I will live for another 50 years!”
For now Oggi is training and racing some at home, and is looking after the development of the national team; “We have fewer riders than in the communist days – but the standard is higher. Unfortunately visa scams to get people out of Mongolia to work cause problems with our cyclists traveling abroad to race. But now they are able to travel again. I think the lifestyle in Mongolia makes for very tough bike riders, so given time maybe we will see a Mongolian professional in Europe.”
Oggi’s fact file
Name - Jamsran Ulzii-Orshikh (Jamsran is his family name)
DOB – 14thJune 1967
Born/lives – Ulaanbatar, Mongolia
Current job – general secretary of the Mongolian Cycling Federation
Race results – you’ll have to excuse us if we’re missing a few here, Archives on Asian racing are not that great, and Oggi is too modest to record them all himself.
1992 79th in Olympic Games, Road, Barcelona
1997 3rd World Championships B
2001 2nd World Championships B
2002 1st General Classification Qingzhang Plateau International Road Race, China
2002 3rd King of Mountains Eagle Tour of Malaysia
2002 1st General Classification Perlis Open, Malaysia
2002 2nd General Classification Tour of Beijing
2003 2nd stage 3 Qinghai Lake Tour, China - 2.3
2004 2nd GC Tour de Sri Lanka
2004 9th GC and 4th stage 4 Tour de China
2005 2nd stage 3 Tour of Siam (Thailand)
2005 3rd GC Tour of Siam (Thailand)
2006 2ndin Stage 2 Tour of Siam, Prachuap Khiri Khan (THA)
2006 1st in Stage 5 Tour of Siam, Khao Lak (Phang Nga) (THA)
2006: 3rd in Stage 3 Tour d'Indonesia, Purwokerto (IDN)
2006: 1st Stage 6 Tour d'Indonesia, Malang (IDN)
2006 3rd Stage 2 Tour of South China Sea, Shenzhen (HKG)
Asian Championships podium finisher 5 times.
National Champion on road and TT 15 times