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Wrestling is one of the physical fighting methods and has an interesting history. A number of theories exist about its origin. Some researchers note considerable importance of religion and worship of divine powers in the development of wrestling, others associate the origination of wrestling with a biological condition manifesting itself in the human striving for movement, while the rest approach the issue from an ideological and philosophical standpoint. However, the most correct theory is related with emergence and development of various physical movement types, and development regularities of cultural and domestic conditions of the human society. It can be assumed that wrestling came into existence once it was understood that physical strength, i.e. dexterity, agility, individual techniques of single combat were an important means to meet the vital requirements of human beings and to provide them with food. The experience gained in that process was handed down from generation to generation, and at certain stage of the development it was realised that wrestling played a very significant role in physical perfection of human beings and generation of their valuable skills.

The first archaeological findings that illustrate wrestling techniques date back to the 6th -4th centuries BC. These pictures show fighting scenes between athletes, mythological images about the famous Epic of Gilgamesh, numerous literature and monuments sources left from Ancient Greeks and Egyptians, etc. For example, approximately 400 pictures illustrating various wrestling techniques that are very similar the present day wrestling techniques were discovered in a noble man’s tomb found as a result of excavations in Bani Hassan settlement of Egypt (2600 years BC).

Similar pictures were also impressed on the coffins of distinguished persons and on earthenware containers (amphoras) made in Greece. The ever lasting Iliad of Homer (the 9th-10th centuries BC) elaborately depicts the fighting scene between two heroes Ajax and Odysseus.

One of the clay vases found in Athens with a detail of wrestling between Heracles and Antaeus clearly shows an encounter scene on a marble sculpture (510 BC).

It is notable that the pictures of wrestling children prevail in such ancient monuments and findings. According to historians, special wrestling schools (palaestra) were created in Ancient Greece, where juniors and cadets learned various wrestling techniques under the supervision of experienced teachers. Palaestra were located in special 66x66m sized buildings and included individual practice room, wrestling grounds, rest and hygiene rooms, as well as accommodations for athletes.

The characteristic feature of the ancient word is that wrestling was set equal to art and studied by outstanding scientists, philosophers, poets, commanders and state figures. The first competitions were only held in standing position, and the athlete three times striking his opponent down to the ground was considered to be a winner. The participants were not divided into weight categories and there was no time limitation of the contest.

Wrestling was included in the program of the ancient Olympic games as part of the Greek pentathlon, pankration, i.e. a blend of wrestling and boxing, and as an independent sport 708 BC). The names of the persons very famous since then, such as mathematician Pythagoras, philosopher Plato, poet Pindar and other can be found among the Olympiad winners. Renowned commander Milon (540-516 BC) is the author of a unique record that has not been equalled so far. He six times became an Olympic champion during 25 years.

Hipposthenes from Sparta (624-608 BC) was five times the winner of the Olympic Games. To clearly understand how difficult such sports achievements were it is sufficient to bring an example that the most prominent representative of the present time, Soviet sportsman Alexander Medved was only three times the Olympic champion (in freestyle wrestling).

During the years of the decline of the Greek civilization and reign of the Romans, wrestling almost disappeared. However, it was partially preserved in some other form in Italy and France. Later, wrestling spread from these countries to a number of European countries, cities and towns. In the Middle Ages, wrestling was learned by knights who extensively used its techniques during battles and tournaments. However, the book for the first time written by Fabiоn fоn Auеrsvald and named ‘Wrestling Mastery’ says that the wrestling techniques were only applied ‘in case of necessity’ for the purpose of self defence.

The educational and health improving importance of wrestling accepted by human beings since ancient times was again highly appreciated, and applied by the 17th century humanists Bazedov, Guts-Muts, Vyеt, Pеstalоttsi and others.

Since the late 18th century, first wrestling competitions were held in Europe and especially in Paris, which is closely related with performances of professional circus wrestlers.

During those years, a style of wrestling unknown to many people was more widely spread. That style of wrestling did not allow grasping below the belt and acting with the help of legs. The main objective was to hold the opponent’s shoulders to the ground. That style was initially called French wrestling (in view of its origination in France), and later named classical wrestling. Nowadays, it is called Greco-Roman wrestling overseas, while in our country they call it classical wrestling.

The first official competition in Greco-Roman wrestling was held in Paris I 1843 with participation of professional athletes. These competitions mainly held in circuses became so popular that they soon displaced the other performance programs of the circus and became the most interesting part of the performance. As far back as the early 19th century, Greco-Roman wrestling was renowned as one of the main circus acts in all the European countries. In view of that, official championships began between professional athletes, which were often called World Championships.

Russian athlete Ivan Maksimovich Poddubny participated from Russia for the first time in the tournament held in Paris in 1896 and called Paris Championship, but with respect to its scale considered to be the first World Championship among professionals. Although that was the first time when he appeared in such a large international competition, he gained the upper hand over all his opponents in 6 encounters, was defeated by athletic-build fan’s idol Raoul Le Boucher, and ranked the second. True, as all the participants admitted, he was much oppressed during the contest, where gross violations of the competition rules took place. Since 1905, I.M. Poddubny six times became the winner at the World Championships held among professionals, and was renowned as ‘Champion of Champions’.

Along with professionalism, Greco-Roman wrestling began to develop as an amateur sport as well. The first European championship in Greco-Roman wrestling among amateur wrestlers was held in Vienna in 1898, where George Hackenschmidt coming from V.F. Krayevski’s Amateur Weightlifting Society became the champion.

The first world championship in Greco-Roman wrestling was again held in Vienna in 1904, in two weight categories, where S. Ahlqvist from Denmark and heavy weighted B. Arnold from Ausralia became winners.

Another most common style of wrestling is freestyle wrestling. All over the world, this style is officially accepted as English wrestling. As far back as the 18th century, there were such variations of wrestling in England, which extensively allowed grasping the legs to attack and to perform techniques using legs. Besides, freestyle wrestling comprised the best techniques of all national wrestling styles and continuously developed.

In the 19th century, America was eventually also seized by the addiction to making money, which was associated with rapid development of professionalism in Europe. Wrestling became an occupation producing good money.

While Greco-Roman wrestling developed in America, attention was also paid to its improvement through various ways. Since the Americans were mainly of English origin they were familiar with English wrestling that is very close to the present day freestyle wrestling. As the Americans deepened their knowledge of the rules, as well as tactical and technical bases of Greco-Roman wrestling, they used the English wrestling considered to be their national wrestling to create the present day freestyle wrestling. Probably that is the reason why it is so far called ‘English-American wrestling’ overseas. Thus, although the Americans were well familiar with Greco-Roman wrestling, the English (freestyle) wrestling became more respected in America and displaced other styles.

The 3rd Olympic Games were held in Saint Louis in 1904. The Americans used this opportunity and for the first time included freestyle wrestling in the program of the Olympic Games. The Europeans were not yet familiar with freestyle wrestling then, therefore no country other than the United States of America placed an order for the 3rd Olympic Games. Having realised that the games would fail, the Americans decided to hold a national championship in the name of the Olympic Games. That is a natural reason of why only Americans were found among the first Olympic champions in freestyle wrestling.

The 4th Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1906. The Greeks, naturally, gave their preference to Greco-Roman wrestling and excluded freestyle wrestling from the program.

During the Olympic Games held in London, the Englishmen chose freestyle wrestling without any hesitation. However, since Greco-Roman wrestling was an Olympic sport highly reputable in Europe, it was for the first time when competitions in two styles of wrestling were allowed during the Olympic Games. Thus, the Europeans were able to watch freestyle wrestling for the first time, which they liked very much.

In 1920, only one American was able to become a champion during the Olympic Games held in Antwerp, Holland. Mostly Finnish and Swiss freestyle wrestlers demonstrated high level of readiness.

In 1928, the first European freestyle wrestling championship was held in Paris.

The European championship was resumed after the Second World War and held in Stockholm in 1946. The championship gathered the strongest wrestlers of the continent. It was expected that wrestlers from Scandinavia and Switzerland would gain the upper hand. However, wrestlers fro Turkey, who were debutants at the championship and had no international experience, left no chances for the renowned sportsmen. They unexpectedly won 3 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze medals. The 14th Olympic Games held in London once more proved that they were indeed the strongest not only in Europe, but all over the world. They gained 4 gold and 2 silver medals.

They were more successful and gained 6 gold medals (out of 8 gold medals) at the first World Championship held in Tokyo in 1951.

The interest in freestyle wrestling deepened in 1950s. Names of Japanese, Iranian, Bulgarian wrestlers were already more frequently mentioned in the world arena.

Ministry of Youth and Sport
of Azerbaijan Republic

National Olympic Committee
of Azerbaijan Republic

Fédération Internationale
des Luttes Associées