ISTANBUL (Associated Press) – It took nearly an hour of fighting with his opponent under the scorching sun for Genghisan to catch up to win the tournament and join a long list of previous winners.
A very long list – this was the 661st oil wrestling championship in Kırkpınar, which was held in the western province of Edirne.
At the festival, which is included on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, wrestlers cover themselves with olive oil, which makes it difficult for opponents to snatch each other. The winner is the wrestler who makes his opponent’s back touch the ground – or his “belly faces the sky.”
With the cheers of thousands of spectators and drums and zorna flutes ringing in his ears, Sports Minister Mehmet Kasapoglu, 26, Simsek, from the Mediterranean province of Antalya, presented the gold belt.
“God gave me this. I thank God. I put the belt around my neck and my dream came true,” Simsek said.
This year, more than 2,475 wrestlers or wrestlers were registered in the event, the highest number ever, according to the official Anadolu News Agency.
There were moments of joy, but there were also moments of tension. At one point, riot police were called to secure the ring after wrestlers faced the judges under the scorching sun.
The festival is said to have started in the 1360s when legend has it that the second Ottoman Sultan, Sultan Orhan, wanted to keep his soldiers fit and ready for battle. But oil wrestling has been practiced throughout the region for thousands of years.
The wrestlers are chosen from among men who exhibit a moral character and must be invited by the master of Kirkpinar. The invitation is delivered by sending a red candle to the nominated pehlivans at the beginning of March.
Wrestlers, who wear leather pants called ‘kispet’, covered with oil poured from a copper jug before wrestling begins, and engage in a highly ritualistic procession to start the match. In the early stages of the tournament, dozens of wrestlers fought in a large grass arena.
The winner earns the title of “Baspehlivan” or the main wrestler. Simsek was crowned for the first time after defeating a group of established candidates.