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A History of Wrestling

Wrestling, one of the most primitive of athletic events, is a popular body-contact sport in which two contestants attempt to pin each other's shoulders to a mat by employing different holds and body maneuvers.  Wrestling was essentially a survival skill that required practice in order to perfect various holds and grips.  That it became a sport was almost inevitable.

Freestyle and Greco-Roman are the two forms of wrestling practiced throughout the world today and are the only two included in the Olympic Games.

Even very young children seem to enjoy pitting their growing strength against that of others of their own size.  In addition to being an exciting sport, wrestling is excellent exercise.  It brings into play all the muscles from head to toe.   Because wrestling depends on physical rather than visual contact, it is one of the sports in which visually handicapped people may take part.

History.jpg (27581 bytes)In wrestling, superior skill can make it possible for one contender to defeat a much bigger and heavier opponent.  A successful wrestler know how to use an opponent's own efforts to force a fall with a skillful twist or turn.  These wrestling tricks may be learned by studying ways of applying leverage so as to make the best use of the strength available.

Greco-Roman wrestling was developed in France and, despite its name, has little in common with the sport of ancient Greece or Rome.  The rules of the Greco-Roman style prohibit holds below the waist and wrestlers are not allowed to use their legs for any grips or tripping.  Greco-Roman wrestling is much more popular in Europe than in the United States.

Freestyle wrestling comes from early Greek wrestling, and the legs play an integral part in contests.  The legs are used not only for balance and support, but also in holding and lifting an opponent.  Freestyle is the most popular wrestling form in the world.

Wrestling technique has changed very little,and many modern holds were derived from the sport as it was practiced in ancient Egypt and China.  Egyptian slabs, dating from perhaps 3000 BC and Tomb carvings in Beni Hasan in Upper Egypt depict more than 200 wrestling figures in positions similar to those of modern competitors.  Wrestling is mentioned by Homer in both the Iliad and the Odyssey.  In the 'Iliad', Homer wrote of a great wrestling match in which Odysseus defeated Ajax for the shield of the slain Achilles.

According to one Greek myth, Zeus won the earth by defeating Krenos, both Greek Gods by legend, in a wrestling match along the Alphus River at Olympia in 776 BC.  Many believe the Olympic Games were developed to commemorate this battle.  The 18th Olympic Games, in 704 BC, included wrestling, and wrestling champions came second only to discus throwers in popular esteem.

The throne of Japan was the prize in a match between two sons of the emperor in 858.   Koreshito won and ruled as Emperor Seiwa.

Amateur wrestling has had an honorable and dignified growth since its organization by the AAU in 1888.  Wrestling teams representing colleges began to arrange matches with one another in about 1900.  The first formal competition between schools grew out of the Intercollegiate Wrestling Association, formed by eastern colleges in 1903.

During the 19th century, freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling regained popular interest.  Circuses and carnivals in the United States sponsored serious wrestling matches, and this activity was directly responsible for the revival of wrestling.   William Muldoon was declared (1880) the first American champion.  Following World War I, fixed professional matches threatened to discredit wrestling, but the Federation Internationale des Luttes Amateurs (FILA), founded in 1921, saved the sport.   This governing body codified rules, set standards, and organized competitions for all amateur wrestlers.  The Olympic Games took on more importance for amateurs and by 1924 included 7 freestyle and 6 Greco-Roman weight divisions, an increase from one division (heavyweight) in the 1904 Olympics.  Japan, with its tradition in Judo, has dominated all the lightweight events in international competition, whereas the USSR and Turkey have ruled the other divisions.