Redemption for Orhan Okulu at 657th Kirkpinar

Last year's runner-up has now claimed victory at the 2018 Kirkpinar olive oil wrestling championship.

Orhan Okulu (Engin Ozmen/Edirne-DHA)
By Daniel Dawson
Jul. 15, 2018 15:01 UTC
Orhan Okulu (Engin Ozmen/Edirne-DHA)

Orhan Okulu, last year’s run­ner-up and the win­ner of the com­pe­ti­tion in 2015, has won the 657th edi­tion of the Kırkpınar olive oil wrestling cham­pi­onship today in the north­west­ern Turkish province of Edirne.

He did so in front of thou­sands of spec­ta­tors from all over Turkey as well as the rest of the world.

Okulu was the last man stand­ing after 2,228 wrestlers com­peted in 14 matches over the course of the pre­vi­ous week. According to Musa Aydın, the pres­i­dent of the Turkish Wrestling Federation, this year’s par­tic­i­pa­tion was the high­est yet.

Okulu defeated Şaban Yılmaz, the win­ner of the 644th edi­tion of the com­pe­ti­tion, to become the başpehli­van — or head wrestler — of 2018 and take home the prize of 50,000 lire (about $10,300).

Okulu defeated Serhat Balcı in his semi-final bout, which lasted much longer than that of Yılmaz. Yılmaz, in turn, defeated the dis­graced Ali Gürbüz, who was stripped of his 2013 cham­pi­onship after test­ing pos­i­tive for banned sub­stances, in his semi-final match.

Kırkpınar is thought to be the old­est sport­ing event in the world and was rec­og­nized in 2010 on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The tra­di­tional wrestling […] reflects our val­ues and iden­tity,” Edirne Mayor Recep Gürkan said. The event has become a major tourist attrac­tion for the region, draw­ing tourists from far and wide to wit­ness the spec­ta­cle for a small fee.

According to leg­end, the first edi­tion of the event hap­pened by acci­dent in 1357. A group of Ottoman sol­diers stopped near present-day Erdine. Forty bored sol­diers started wrestling to pass the time. After the rest had stopped, two con­tin­ued into the night and were found dead the next morn­ing.

There was no win­ner that year, but since then the event has been held annu­ally with the par­tic­i­pants wrestling in pairs for an entire week until one man is left stand­ing. The wrestlers wear only a kıspet — the short, leather pants after which the event is named — and are cov­ered in olive oil.

The wrestling begins with the men lock­ing their hands and keep­ing their heads close. In order to win the con­test, one of the fight­ers must knock his oppo­nent on his back and pin him or lift him into the air. The olive oil makes it very dif­fi­cult for the wrestlers to grab each other, so they are allowed to grab onto the pock­ets of the opponent’s kıspet.

Roughly two tons of olive oil are used to cover the wrestlers for the dura­tion of the fes­ti­val. In pre­vi­ous years, sun­flower oil has been sug­gested as a cheaper replace­ment, but this was met with wide­spread antipa­thy from the wrestlers. They pre­fer olive oil, say­ing that it is bet­ter for their skin, reduces pain caused by injuries and helps wounds to heal more quickly.

This year’s com­pe­ti­tion was orig­i­nally sched­uled for July 2 to 8, but due to the pres­i­den­tial and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, the Turkish wrestling fed­er­a­tion post­poned it to this past week.


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