This is one of the most popular sports in
Turkey. Yagli gures means literally oiled wrestling. The wrestlers
wear tight short leather trousers called "Kispet", made of water
buffalo leather weighing approximately 13 kilograms, and they cover
themselves with olive oil. Matches take place throughout the country
but the most famous and most important tournament takes place in
Edirne by the end of June-beginning of July.
Every year since 1640 Turkey’s best wrestlers –
men and boys – have gathered for their national championships on a
grassy field near the capitol of the old Ottoman Empire (Edirne).
The tournament is called “Kirkpinar,” or “Forty Springs,” in honor
of a 17th Century wrestling legend.
Nearly 1,000 barefoot athletes compete, oiled up and stripped to the
waist. The all-out style and the oiled trunks go back to the
world-famous Janissaries, an elite fraternity of body guards to the
Imperial Sultans. The modern stadium is located on the former site
of the Sultan’s palace, and Turkey’s president crowns the champions.
For three days the field is crowded with simultaneous matches in
eleven divisions, ranging from school kids to forty-year-old
masters. The sun is hot, but the fights are long.
Only if there is no winner after a half-hour is the match decided
with a “sudden death” overtime. There are few forbidden holds, and
grabbing of trunks is not off limits. Despite the fierce
aggressiveness, however, and the obvious opportunities for fouling,
these Turks demonstrate their essential brotherhood even when
struggling to win. If one is injured or gets grass in his eye, for
example, it is his opponent who assists him.