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Takhti Cup Competition Strengthens U.S.-Iran Wrestling Ties

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U.S. team praises Iranian fans, public for their enthusiasm and friendship Washington — The U.S. freestyle wrestling team has returned from the Takhti Cup, held January 18-19 in Bandar Abbas, Iran, where they competed against some of the world’s best wrestlers and shared in the enthusiasm and friendship of the Iranian fans and public. ‘To be the best you have to wrestle best,’ said sports official Van Stokes, who led the group of 14 American wrestlers, coaches and staff members to the competition. ‘But this was also a truly memorable event and a great example of people-to-people diplomacy.’ Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling, the national governing body for the sport in the United States, agreed. ‘It has been great here,’ Bender said. ‘We have been treated with the utmost hospitality.’ Writing about the experience, Stokes said that upon their arrival in Bandar Abbas, the team was given a bouquet of flowers, and each wrestler was handed a single rose by young children dressed in traditional attire. ‘The tone of great hospitality was set at a level that never diminished during the entire visit,’ Stokes wrote. ‘Every request was honored and every need was met in a gracious manner.’ COMPETITION AND FRIENDSHIP As expected, Iranian wrestlers dominated the Takhti Cup competition, but the United States still came away with four medals: a gold, silver and two bronze medals (finishes in first, second and third places). With his speed and power on the mat, as well as his engaging personality, the U.S. gold medal winner, Muhammad ‘Mo’ Lawal, was a particular fan favorite, according to news accounts. After his gold-medal bout in the 96-kilogram class, Lawal danced to the beat of traditional Iranian music and climbed into the stands to greet the cheering fans and hand out commemorative pins. Lawal, born in Tennessee, is a 2005-2006 U.S. Nationals Champion and former ‘All-American’ champion wrestler at Oklahoma State University, one of the traditional college powers in American wrestling. All-American is an honor bestowed to top collegiate athletes by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. While in Iran, Lawal renewed a friendship with Iranian wrestler Majid Khodaei, whom he met at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. FANS AND MANAGEMENT The Iranian fans lived up to their reputation as among the most knowledgeable and appreciative wrestling fans in the world, Stokes said. ‘They could best be described as raucous, frenzied, loud, pulsating, rhythmic, and great,’ he wrote. He noted that many of the young people painted their faces in the colors of the Iranian flag — green, red and white. ‘They were loud and proud,’ Stokes said. ‘Their cheers were long and were fueled by a loud drum, a horn, a kazoo, and several Iranian flags in their midst. They were appreciative of good performances by the wrestlers, regardless of the nationality. They were quick to show their appreciation.’ News coverage was intense, according to Stokes, and often resembled the media frenzy in the United States that occurs during major sporting events. Stokes also expressed his admiration for the overall management of the tournament, from hotel accommodations to the conduct of the matches themselves. ‘This is clearly a country that understands the intricacies and details of hosting a world-class wrestling event,’ Stokes said. Since 1998, the United States regularly has participated in the Takhti Cup as well as frequent international tournaments. In the most recent 2006 World Championships, held in Guangzhou, China, Iran placed second and the United States third in freestyle wrestling — behind today’s dominant wrestling power, Russia. In fact, eight members of the U.S. team traveled directly from Iran to Russia for a wrestling tournament there. USA Wrestling?s Bender said he hoped an Iranian team would be able to travel to the United States in 2007, and in several news interviews, praised the professionalism and ability of both the Iranian wrestlers and coaches. (USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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