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.