Oh yes, the king of all Olympics tickets. The final of the Greco-Roman wrestling! But before I write about that graceful, poetic sport, a shout out to a memorable moment. As luck would have it, not too long into our evening's entertainment, it was pointed out to us that Helen Glover was sitting just in front of us. Wow. Who? Before last week I would have had no idea either, but then she won Gold for GB in the rowing coxless pairs. Going against all my instincts to leave renowned people to their privacy, I approached her and the result was...
I am glad to report that she was very friendly and gracious. If she was bothered by the attention she did not show it and even let me touch the gold medal (awesome!!!). It is wonderful to see people like this get the attention they deserve for all their hard work. Move over Joey Barton.
On entering the arena I was completely clueless as to what this sport was. Leaving, I was barely more in the know, but will do my best to interpret. Unlike freestyle wrestling where you can use your legs to attack and defend, in Greco-Roman you can only use your upper body. Lunging and slapping for a grip, muscle-bound dudes grab hold of each other's hands, neck, head or torso and tussle. It resembles a bear fight, especially with the hair on some of the Eastern Europeans.
The aim is to throw the other man onto his back or out of the ring with points scored for each. Whoever scores more points wins the round and whoever wins enough rounds wins the match. Simple. Not quite. There were a plethora of other niceties such as illegal moves and challenges (at one point a wrestler was so pissed with the decision of the judge that he refused to shake hands and stormed off down the wrong exit). The most peculiar bit though comes if the scores are level with 30 seconds to go in a round. One of the fighters lies prostate on the floor, the other one approaches slowly from behind, mounts and then, in tight embrace, tries to wrestle the other guy off the floor in the remaining time. More of that later...
A full evening's entertainment included the repercharge, bronze and gold medal matches of the lightweights (sub 60 kg - approx a small woman), middleweights (sub 84 kg - approx me, on a good day) and heavyweights (sub 120 kg - approx MASSIVE). In many ways the small guys were more entertaining. Faster and with many more throws compared to the giants who seemed to be locked in a slow full body arm wrestle.
All this was fascinating to watch, but the crowd was just as interesting. It had passed under my radar that this sport was huge in a whole host of countries roughly equating to the combined range of the Byzantine and Russian empire. Turks, Georgians, Egyptians, Iranians, Poles, Kazakhs, Russians and... OK the pattern does not quite fit, a gigantic Cuban who won the heavyweight crown. Instead of being full of clueless Brits, the place teemed with noisy, partisan fans from each of these countries. Particularly good were a bunch of burly Georgian men congregated in the far corner, some rowdy Poles, hundreds of excited Iranians and two drunk Swedes kitted out in lycra who were man-handled out of the arena by security after running on to celebrate when their compatriot won bronze.
It was a special moment to see three gold medals awarded, complete with obligatory tears from the victors, but the lasting memory from my first encounter with this most ancient of Olympic events is its touching homo-eroticism, lost from so many modent sports. Fitting for a sport which originated in ancient Greece (although then it was done in the buff as opposed to overly tight lycra), the big matches were won in a groaning eliminator man tussle. A beautiful sight to behold.