The 654th Kırkpınar Oil Wrestling Festival in the northwestern border city of Edirne attracted a record number of visitors this year. Edirne Mayor Recep Gürkan said that this year, a total of 1,923 wrestlers were registered at the event, setting a record. The annual tournament, which began Friday, is the oldest sanctioned sporting competition in the world and has been held in the same place since 1362. Saturday's matchups reduced the number of finalists to eight from an initial 54 after Friday saw junior wrestlers take to the grass. The tournament hosts thousands as spectators from Turkey and around the world who come to watch oil wrestlers continue honoring the tradition. Former champion Mehmet Yeşil, who won in 2009 and 2010 before succumbing to current title-holder Fatih Atlı, fell to the reigning champion once again Saturday in the first round, in what Yeşil described as an early final. Ahead of the fight, Atlı said it was "history repeating itself." "I beat him at a time when it was thought he was going to be the eternal holder of the title," he said. A wrestler who holds the title for three consecutive years is awarded the golden belt, which typically changes hands every year, as a token of his domination in the sport. This year's event saw an unusual entry - a convict serving time in prison for causing bodily injury. Hasan Borucu, 24, was given special permission by the Justice Ministry to compete this year, but was beaten in the first round. Meanwhile, dozens of people coming from various parts of Turkey to see the festival slept in the garden of Selimiye Mosque as well as parks as they could not find places in hotels. "Where we sleep is not important; keeping the culture alive is what is important," Balıkesir's Mustafa Ayan.
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