One of the most primitive and universal sports, wrestling was probably known in prehistoric times. In ancient Greece, wrestlers were rated second only to discus throwers as popular Olympic heroes. The Greeks practiced two forms of wrestling—upright and ground. Wrestling was also included in the pentathlon and the pankration (combined with boxing); the most famous Greek wrestler was Milo of Crotona. Homer's account of the match between Ajax and Ulysses (Iliad, XXIII) is one of the world's greatest wrestling stories. Wrestling tournaments were held in medieval Europe, and the sport has remained popular throughout history.
Distinctly different styles of wrestling exist today. In Japan, for example, two types of wrestling styles are popular—sumo and jujitsu (see judo). Sumo, in which the object is to force the opponent out of the ring, is quasireligious in nature and involves much ritual. Most of its participants weigh 300 to 400 lb (135–180 kg). For centuries wrestling has been the center of life for the Nuba in Africa, who wrestle only after covering themselves with symbolic ash. In the traditional Turkish style of Pehlivan, wrestlers wear leather breeches and cover themselves with oil; the Shwingen style of Switzerland and the Glima of Iceland feature grips on the opponent's belt; the Cumberland-Westmoreland style from Britain relies on holds that bend opponents backward; in Central Asia, wrestlers still compete in Kuresh wrestling passed down from the Turkmen centuries ago.
Nearly all nations embrace the two types of wrestling contested in the Olympics: Greco-Roman and freestyle. Greco-Roman, most popular in continental Europe, prohibits tripping, holds below the waist, and the use of one's legs. Freestyle wrestling is most popular in the United States and E Europe. This form permits tackling, tripping, and leg holds. High schools and colleges in the United States employ a style that approximates freestyle. In nonprofessional wrestling, contestants are classified by weight. Wrestlers earn points for certain maneuvers and the highest accumulated total wins if there is no pin during a match. Professional wrestling in the United States, which is a form of entertainment rather than a sport, has enjoyed several periods of popularity; it relies on colorful showmanship and media exposure.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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