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Ali Gürbüz Wins 658th Kirkpinar Before Record-Breaking Crowds

The two-time former champion defeated Orhan Okulu, last year's winner, to claim the honor of head wrestler at Kırkpınar. This is Gürbüz's first title since his disqualification in the 2013 semi-final.

Ali Gürbüz claims his third title at Kırkpınar. Photo courtesy of Haber Ne Diyor
Jul. 7, 2019
By Daniel Dawson
Ali Gürbüz claims his third title at Kırkpınar. Photo courtesy of Haber Ne Diyor

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Ali Gürbüz has defeated last year’s cham­pion, Orhan Okulu, in the final match of the 658th Kırkpınar olive oil wrestling cham­pi­onship.

Gürbüz claimed the title of başpehli­van — or head wrestler — in front of record-break­ing crowds in the north­west­ern Turkish city of Erdine. He takes home a prize of 51,000 Turkish lira ($9,060) and has redeemed him­self in the eyes of many com­men­ta­tors.

Oil wrestling unites people across our coun­try, and I’m proud of being part of this ancient tour­na­ment that has been going on for cen­turies.- Ali Gökçen, 25-year vet­eran of Kırkpınar

After win­ning back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012, Gürbüz was famously dis­qual­i­fied from the 2013 semi-final after test­ing pos­i­tive for banned sub­stances. He also made it to last year’s semi-final, where he was defeated by Şaban Yılmaz, the 2005 cham­pion.

In order to claim his third title, Gürbüz defeated Hamza Köseoğlu in his semi-final match, while two-time former cham­pion Okulu defeated Mehmet Yeşil, the runner-up in 2016, in his semi-final bout.

See more: Kırkpınar

Gürbüz and Okulu had met twice before at Kırkpınar, with each wrestler having pre­vi­ously won one match against the other.

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This year’s edi­tion of Kırkpınar broke last year’s record for the number of wrestlers par­tic­i­pat­ing, as 2,380 Turks from across the coun­try grap­pled on grassy fields over the course of the week. Gürbüz’s vic­tory came in front of the largest live and tele­vi­sion audi­ence that the event has also ever seen, accord­ing to the Anadolu news agency.

Kırkpınar is widely con­sid­ered to be the oldest sport­ing event in the world, dating back to the mid-four­teenth cen­tury, and was rec­og­nized in 2010 as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event.

According to legend, the first edi­tion of the event took place in 1357 when a group of Ottoman sol­diers stopped near Erdine. While they were wait­ing near the former cap­i­tal of the Ottoman Empire, 40 of the 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 next morn­ing.

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There was no winner that year, but since then the event has been held annu­ally with par­tic­i­pants wrestling in pairs for a week until only one man is left stand­ing.

“Oil wrestling unites people across our coun­try, and I’m proud of being part of this ancient tour­na­ment that has been going on for cen­turies,” Ali Gökçen, a 25-year vet­eran of Kırkpınar, told Anadolu news agency. “It reflects our cul­ture.”

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Kırkpınar wrestlers wear only a kıspet — the short, leather pants after which the event is named — and grap­ple with one another while cov­ered in olive oil. It is esti­mated that about two tons of olive oil is used each year during the event.

The match begins with both com­bat­ants lock­ing their hands together and keep­ing their heads close. In order to win, one of the fight­ers must knock his oppo­nent onto his back and pin him or lift him into the air. If this does not occur within 40 min­utes then the ref­eree calls time and awards a golden point to the wrestler he believed to be supe­rior.

The olive oil makes it very dif­fi­cult for the wrestlers to get a grip on one another, so they are allowed to 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.

Gürbüz defeated Okulu for the second time at Kırkpınar in order to claim his third title. Photo cour­tesy of Haber Ne Diyor.

Kırkpınar has always been pop­u­lar in Turkey, attract­ing thou­sands of spec­ta­tors each year, and is becom­ing increas­ingly pop­u­lar with for­eign tourists vis­it­ing the north­west­ern city as well.

“Lots of tourists come to see Edirne’s cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal sites,” Mustafa Kabak, a local hotel employee, told Anadolu news agency. “But when the fes­ti­val kicks off, it’s a whole dif­fer­ent story, as an incred­i­ble number of tourists arrive in the region.”

“The demand is so high during the Kırkpınar fes­ti­val that it’s almost impos­si­ble to find a single vacant room,” he added. “In fact, there are local res­i­dents who leave the city and rent out their houses to tourists.”

Among the for­eign nation­als who have been spot­ted at this year’s edi­tion of the com­pe­ti­tion were Japanese, Bulgarian, Russian, and British tourists. Roughly 3.8 mil­lion vis­i­tors come to Erdine each year, with many coming specif­i­cally for Kırkpınar.

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“Honoring the coun­try’s old tra­di­tion is truly beau­ti­ful,” Mariana, a local baker, told Anadolu news agency. “In addi­tion to the spir­i­tual sat­is­fac­tion, we also reap the ben­e­fits by earn­ing more and serv­ing more.”