Yusuf Can Zeybek Triumphant at Kırkpınar

The first-time Kırkpınar winner overcame two-time champion İsmail Balaban to win the title of head wrestler at the world’s oldest sporting event.
Yusuf Can Zeybek
By Daniel Dawson
Jul. 10, 2023 13:52 UTC

After 49 min­utes of intense, hand-to-hand com­bat, Yusuf Can Zeybek has tri­umphed at the 662nd edi­tion of the Kırkpınar olive oil wrestling fes­ti­val.

Can Zeybek defeated two-time cham­pion İsmail Balaban to claim the title of başpehli­van, chief wrestler; the competition’s pres­ti­gious golden belt; and 1 mil­lion Turkish lira (€35,000) in prize money.

Balaban had the best of the oppor­tu­ni­ties through­out the final, com­ing close to knock­ing his oppo­nent down in the 23rd minute. However, with 10 min­utes to go before the end of reg­u­lar time, Can Zeybek took advan­tage of a poorly-timed lunge from Balaban and pinned him.

See Also:A Record-Breaking Year for Producers in Turkey

On his way to becom­ing the cham­pion, Can Zeybek beat 2016 run­ner-up Mehmet Yeşil in 50 min­utes in his semi-final after defeat­ing Fatih Atlı in the quar­ter-final.

Despite the dis­ap­point­ing fin­ish to a mem­o­rable Kırkpınar run, which included defeat­ing Hüseyin Gümüşalan in a quick 15-minute semi-final bout and Özkan Yılmaz in the quar­ter-finals, Balaban took home 250,000 Turkish lira (€8,750).

However, his most sig­nif­i­cant moment in the tour­na­ment came before the quar­ter-finals, when he elim­i­nated Kırkpınar favorite and three-time cham­pion Ali Gürbüz.

Earlier in the day, Yeşil also was on the win­ning end of one of the biggest Kırkpınar upsets, defeat­ing two-time cham­pion Orhan Okulu in the quar­ter-finals.

Over the week­end, 2,475 wrestlers from across Turkey gath­ered in the north­west­ern city of Edirne to take part in Kırkpınar, con­sid­ered by many to be the world’s old­est con­tin­u­ously run­ning sport­ing event.

The tra­di­tional olive oil wrestling fes­ti­val draws tourists from across Turkey and the world. Anadolu Agency, the state-run news ser­vice, reported that all the hotels in the area were fully booked for this year’s event, with sev­eral wrestlers stay­ing in tents out­side the city.

According to leg­end, the first Kırkpınar occurred in 1357 when a group of Ottoman sol­diers stopped near Edirne. While they waited near the for­mer Ottoman Empire cap­i­tal, 40 sol­diers began wrestling to pass the time. After the rest had fin­ished, the final two con­tin­ued fight­ing into the night, and both were found dead the fol­low­ing day.

There was no win­ner that year, but since then, the event has been held each July except for 2020, when it was can­celed due to the Covid-19 pan­demic.

During the olive oil wrestling fes­ti­val, pro­fes­sional and ama­teur wrestlers of all ages, cul­tural back­grounds and social classes gather in Edirne, grap­pling in pairs on the grassy fields until one wrestler suc­cess­fully knocks the other onto his back.

Wrestlers doused in olive oil wear only a kıspet – the short, leather pants made from water buf­falo or cat­tle – while they grap­ple.

The match begins with both com­bat­ants lock­ing their hands together and keep­ing their heads close.

To win, one of the fight­ers must knock his oppo­nent onto his back and pin or lift him into the air. If this does not occur, the ref­eree calls time and awards a golden point to the wrestler he believed to be supe­rior. Starting next year, the golden point will be elim­i­nated.

The olive oil makes it very dif­fi­cult for the wrestlers to get a grip on one another so that they can grab the pock­ets of the opponent’s kıspet.

Wrestlers also say that olive oil reduces the pain caused by injuries and helps their wounds to heal more quickly.

An esti­mated 2 tons of olive oil are used dur­ing the event. In the first rounds, wrestlers gather in the com­pe­ti­tion area and apply oil to one another.

The process of oil­ing fol­lows a spe­cific rit­ual. First, oil is applied to the left shoul­der, chest, left arm and cuff of one wrestler by another wrestler using his left hand.

Next, wrestlers do the same to the right half of their body. The final step of the rit­ual is for wrestlers to apply oil to each other’s backs.

The oil is a key part of the com­pe­ti­tion, and if at any point dur­ing a match, a wrestler believes he needs to re-apply oil, he may ask for a time-out from the ref­eree and his oppo­nent.

Ritual plays an essen­tial role in the Kırkpınar cel­e­bra­tions. Each edi­tion of the event begins with a parade. This year, a 30-square-meter Turkish flag was unfurled dur­ing the parade to com­mem­o­rate the 100th anniver­sary of the repub­lic’s found­ing.

Along with the Kırkpınar Aga, the mas­ter of cer­e­monies, 40 bands of tra­di­tional drum­mers play­ing their davul and zurna, a wind instru­ment, accom­pany the golden belt through the city to the Selimiye Mosque, where tra­di­tional prayers are recited.

Over the years, Kırkpınar has become a touch­stone of Turkish cul­ture. In 2010, it was named to the rep­re­sen­ta­tive list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and has become a major tourist event.

We start to expe­ri­ence the excite­ment before Kırkpınar arrives,” Bahri Dinar, an Edirne tourist ambas­sador, told Anadolu Agency.

He added that most pri­vate busi­nesses in the city ben­e­fit from the event, sell­ing com­mem­o­ra­tive mer­chan­dise along with nor­mal tourist wares. All of our trades­men con­tribute to the pro­mo­tion of Kırkpınar,” he said.


Related Articles