It took nearly an hour of grappling with his opponent under the blazing Turkish sun for Cengizhan Simsek to win the tournament and join a long list of previous victors.
A very long list — this was the 661st Kirkpinar oil wrestling championship, taking place in western Edirne province.
The winner is the wrestler who makes his opponent’s back touch the ground — or his “belly face the sky”.
With the cheers of thousands of spectators and the tunes of drums and zurna flutes ringing in his ears, 26-year-old Simsek, from the Mediterranean province of Antalya, was presented with the golden belt by sports minister Mehmet Kasapoglu.
“God granted me this. I thank God. I put the belt around my neck and fulfilled my dream,” Simsek said.
This year, more than 2,475 pehlivans – or wrestlers – registered for the event, the highest number ever, according to the official Anadolu news agency.
The festival reportedly started in the 1360s when legend says the second Ottoman sultan, Sultan Orhan, wanted to keep his soldiers fit and ready for battle. But oil wrestling has been practiced across the region for thousands of years.
The winner earns the title of “Baspehlivan” – or head wrestler. Simsek was crowned for the first time after defeating a clutch of established favourites.