Cengizhan Şimşek Claims Başpehlivan Title at 661st Kırkpınar

Twenty-six-year-old Cengizhan Şimşek defeated several former champions en route to his victory at the 661st edition of the world’s oldest sporting event.

Cengizhan Şimşek
By Daniel Dawson
Jul. 5, 2022 12:31 UTC
Cengizhan Şimşek

Over the week­end, a sold-out crowd wit­nessed Turkish wrestler Cengizhan Şimşek claim his first-ever vic­tory in the 661stKırkpınar olive oil wrestling cham­pi­onship, becom­ing one of the youngest-ever cham­pi­ons.

Şimşek defeated com­pa­triot Mustafa Taş in over­time to claim the title of başpehli­van – chief wrestler – and the competition’s pres­ti­gious golden belt and prize money.

My dream has come true,” Şimşek told local media. When you work hard, God rewards your efforts.”

On his way to the final, the 26-year-old defeated some of the tour­na­ment favorites, includ­ing two-time cham­pion Orhan Okul, 2017 cham­pion İsmail Balaban, Menderes Saltık and Tanju Gemici. Taş faced a sim­i­larly chal­leng­ing run to the final.

See Also:Turkish Producers Reach New Heights in World Competition

Local media reported that both wrestlers were greeted enthu­si­as­ti­cally by the audi­ence and responded by per­form­ing a tra­di­tional chore­o­graphed pre-match rou­tine known as a peşrev.

Considered under­dogs at the start of the com­pe­ti­tion, both wrestlers began the final round cau­tiously, and after 40 min­utes, nei­ther one was able to get the best of the other.

Once time expired, the match went into over­time, where each wrestler earned points for dif­fer­ent tech­ni­cal moves. Finally, in the 59th minute, Şimşek caught Taş off-guard to win the match.

Şimşek ded­i­cated the vic­tory to his par­ents from the coastal city of Antalya, home to sev­eral other cham­pi­ons in the past decade.

This year, our young wrestlers took Edirne by storm,” Recep Gürkan, the city’s mayor, wrote on Facebook. I con­grat­u­late both of our wrestlers who have writ­ten their names in his­tory with golden let­ters and wish them suc­cess.”

A record-high 2,475 wrestlers flocked to Edirne in north­west­ern Turkey to com­pete, where shirt­less ath­letes wear­ing the tra­di­tional leather pants known as kıspet cover them­selves in olive oil and grap­ple with their oppo­nents on a grass field until one of them is knocked onto his back. Over three days, wrestlers fight in pairs until only one is left stand­ing.

An esti­mated two tons of olive oil are used dur­ing the event. Wrestlers douse them­selves in olive oil to make it more dif­fi­cult for their oppo­nents to get a firm grip on them. Some also claim that apply­ing fresh oil between fights helps soothe their injuries.

This year’s event gar­nered par­tic­u­lar inter­est from the Turkish pub­lic. Defending cham­pion Ali Gürbüz was com­pet­ing to win his third con­sec­u­tive title, which would have made him an eter­nal holder of the golden belt. However, he fell short, los­ing to 2016 run­ner-up Mehmet Yeşil early on.

Organizers also lifted audi­ence restric­tions imposed to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pan­demic, which was par­tially attrib­uted to the uptick in atten­dance.

While many felt that this year’s edi­tion of Kırkpınar would be a return to nor­mal­ity, the event fea­tured plenty of drama.

Away from the mul­ti­ple upsets caused by the two final­ists, tem­pers flared early on when the ref­er­ees elim­i­nated the 2005 cham­pion and 2018 and 2019 run­ner-up Şaban Yılmaz for foul play. The enraged for­mer cham­pion stormed into the ref­eree box and had to be calmed down and removed by local police.

Kırkpınar is widely thought to be the world’s old­est sport­ing event and was rec­og­nized in 2010 on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Its ori­gins date back to 1357 when a group of Ottoman sol­diers stopped near present-day Edirne.

To pass the time, 40 sol­diers decided to wres­tle in pairs. After the rest had stopped, the last two wres­tled into the night and were found dead the next morn­ing.

There was no win­ner, but the event has been held annu­ally since then, except in 2020 when Kırkpınar was can­celed in response to the rapid spread of Covid-19 in Turkey.

I heartily con­grat­u­late all our wrestlers who sweat in the hal­lowed field,” Gürkan said. I hope to meet you all at the 662nd Kırkpınar in 2023 on the 100th anniver­sary of our repub­lic.”

This is a break­ing news arti­cle. Check back for updates.

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