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Oil Technicians Compete for Title in Competition That Has Been Going on for Over 600 Years in Turkey

EDIRNE, Türkiye (AP) — After nearly an hour of battling an enemy in the blazing sun, Türkiye The “Tireless Wrestler” was declared the winner of the 663rd Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championships.

Yusuf Can Zeybek, from the Mediterranean province of Antalya, defended the title he won last year in a contest that is believed to have taken place in the 14th century. The 30-year-old, who earned his nickname for the stamina he displays in bouts, was one of 40 wrestlers, or pehlivans, competing in the final day of competition on Sunday.

The fights, held in a grass arena in Turkey’s northwestern Edirne province, took place in temperatures of 36 degrees Celsius (98 degrees Fahrenheit), causing one fighter to faint and require medical attention.

Zeybek triumphed in the 56th minute of the match against Mustafa Tas, the 2022 champion, winning the golden belt and a cash prize of 550,000 liras (about $16,800).

Wrestlers rest as they wait for their turn to fight during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

A young wrestler waits for his turn to fight during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Young wrestlers compete during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. The wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” style competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

In a sport that is on UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Listwrestlers cover themselves in olive oil, making it harder for their opponents to catch them. The wrestler who makes their opponent’s back touch the ground wins.

It is said to have started in the 1360s when the second Ottoman sultan, Sultan Orhan, wanted to keep his soldiers fit and ready for battle. However, oil wrestling has been practiced throughout the region for thousands of years.

The wrestlers are chosen from among the men who demonstrate moral character and must be invited by the master of the Kirkpinar. The invitation is delivered by sending a red candle to the nominated pehlivans in early March.

Wrestlers compete during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Sunday, July 7, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Wrestlers warm up as they wait for their turn to fight during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” style competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

A wrestler is doused with oil by an “oiller” during the 663rd annual Kirkpinar Historical Olive Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. The wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” style competition dressed only in leather pants and covered in a generous amount of olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Wrestlers, wearing leather pants called kispetare covered in oil poured from a copper jug ​​before the wrestling begins, and then take part in a highly ritualistic procession to begin the bout. In the early stages of the tournament, dozens of wrestlers battle it out in a large grass arena.

On Saturday, the opening day, 40 competitors took part showing the ultranationalist gesture “Grey Wolf” which previously caused a diplomatic dispute between Turkey and Germany.

Saluting – holding the thumb and two middle fingers together to form a muzzle, and the outer fingers raised to form ears – led to two-match suspension for one of the Turkish players when he displayed it at a match, which was condemned in Germany, the host of the European Championship. Turkish authorities have defended the symbol as an expression of Turkish pride. Critics say it glorifies a right-wing group known for racism and violence against minorities.

Congratulating Zeybek, Sports Minister Osman Askin Bak said: “I would also like to thank all our wrestlers who competed at the historic Kirkpinar ground for their contribution to upholding our historical heritage.”

Wrestlers practice before competing during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. The wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” style competition dressed only in leather pants and smeared with a generous amount of olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Wrestlers compete during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Sunday, July 7, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

A wrestler is doused with oil by an “oiller” during the 663rd annual Kirkpinar Historical Olive Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. The wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” style competition dressed only in leather pants and covered in a generous amount of olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

A referee announces a wrestler’s victory in a round during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and smeared with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Spectators watch wrestling rounds during the 663rd annual Historic Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” style competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Wrestlers compete during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

A young wrestler waits for his turn to fight during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Wrestlers compete during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Wrestlers compete during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

A wrestler cools down during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” style competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Wrestlers compete during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Band members play traditional music during the 663rd annual Historic Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Wrestlers compete during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Wrestlers compete during the 663rd annual Historical Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Championship in Edirne, northwestern Turkey, Saturday, July 6, 2024. Wrestlers compete in the traditional “sudden death” competition dressed only in leather pants and doused with olive oil. The festival is part of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Wilks reported from Istanbul.