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

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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.



Uploaded by GÜREŞ DÜNYASI on 2018-07-15.

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.


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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.