The origins of Turkish oil wrestling are found in the early days of the Ottoman Empire. During the long military campaigns soldiers of Sultan organized friendly matches smeared themselves with olive oil. It is believed that the first oil wrestling tournament was held in 1346 at the Kirkpinar Meadow in today’s Greece. In the beginning of the 20th century, when the historical Kirkpinar Meadow was ceded to Greece as a result of the Balkan Wars, the tournament has moved to the present location just outside the town of Edirne in East Thrace, Turkey. The Kirkpinar tournament is now officially recognized as the oldest continuously running sporting competition in the world. About one thousand wrestlers from across the country, the winners of regional competitions, attend the three-day oil wrestling tournament. Kirkpinar begins with prayers at the Edirne cemetery, where some of Turkey’s most famous wrestlers are buried. The wrestlers fight in relays, with as many as 20 individual contests going on in the square arena at one time. Before each bout, competitors douse themselves and their opponents with olive oil from huge, metal cauldrons hanging in the wrestlers’ compound. Getting a firm hold on a slippery opponent and maintaining it long enough to twist him on his back require both strength and speed.


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