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EDIRNE, Turkey (Reuters) - Some 2,200 oil wrestlers began fighting bouts at a stadium in the northwestern Turkish city of Edirne on Friday, competing to win a golden belt in a contest dating back to the 14th Century.
Organizers said a record number of wrestlers were taking part in the annual Kirkpinar tournament, in which participants don leather trousers and pour olive oil over their bodies before competing in a grassy field.
Among those challenging for the golden belt and a winner's prize of 50,000 lira ($14,000) was Umit Kinali, 32, a bodyguard from Bodrum in southwest Turkey.
"My grandfather was an oil wrestler and I want to continue our family tradition," said Kinali. "Wrestling is fun," he added, before competing in a bout.
Sixty wrestlers will fight their way through qualifying to compete on Sunday in the final of the 656th edition of the annual contest in Edirne, near the border with Greece and Bulgaria.
The stands in the 25,000-seated Sarayici stadium were sparsely filled on Friday, but were expected to be full on the final day of a contest which the festival's official website (www.edirnekirkpinar.com) describes as the world’s longest continuously held sporting event, launched in 1357.
Reporting by Murad Sezer; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Christian Radnedge