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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 March 2004, 18:09 GMT
Ancient art back in Athens
Ukraine's Armen Vardanyan and Georgia's Manuchar Kvirkelia in action
Greco-Roman is the original style
Wrestling is the world's oldest sport with evidence suggesting bare-handed combat was contested more than 5,000 years ago in Egypt.

The Olympic concept was conceived in 708 BC and the first record of wrestling being part of the sporting celebration came in 776 BC.

In those days bouts were brutal, far-removed from the modern sport, and it was the influence of the Romans who helped reduce the violence before wrestling fell into obscurity until the Middle Ages.

It reappeared on the scene in Britain, France and Japan and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

Wrestling was included in the first modern Olympics in 1896 where it was a focus of the Games as organisers looked to create a bridge to the past.

However, they were in for a surprise as instead of a hulking great monolith of a man taking the top medal, Carl Schumann, a diminuitive German gymnast took gold.

A further shock came four years later when wrestling was scratched from the list of events, however, it has been an ever-present on the programme ever since.

Greco-Roman wrestling, the original style in the sport, was contested at the first modern Olympics, before making way for the introduction of freestyle in 1904.

A 1912 bout between Estonia's Martin Klein and Finland's Alfred Asikainen lasted for 11 hours and 40 minutes. Klein eventually won but was too tired to compete in the final
Both were included on the 1908 programme, as they have been ever since, apart from the 1912 Stockholm Olympics when Greco-Roman was the sole style.

The Soviet Union, and now Russia, have dominated Olympic wrestling, particularly the Greco-Roman category.

Freestyle is similar to the American collegiate wrestling and as a result the USA have always fared well in that discipline, winning 45 golds compared to a mere two in Greco-Roman.

The second of those golds came in Sydney four years ago when Rulon Gardner upset one of the legends of the sport, Russia's Alexander Karelin.

Karelin has the distinction of winning three successive super-heavyweight golds under three different flags, the Soviet sickle (1988), the Unified (1992) and the Russian (1996).

His defeat to Gardner was his first in 14 bouts and he is one of only four men to have claimed three Olympic golds along with Swedes Carl Westergren (1920-32) and Ivar Johannson (1932-6) and Aleksandr Medved (1964-72) of the Soviet Union.

Johannson was the first man to win freestyle and Greco-Roman golds in the same year, before Estonia's Kristjan Palusala matched that 1932 feat four years later.

Karelin is the only man to have won three times in the same weight category.

By 2000 those categories had changed slightly with a reduction in the number of classes from 10 to eight.

Those have been reduced again to seven ahead of the Athens Olympics, which will see women competing for the first time in four weight categories.

MEDAL TABLE (Top five)
Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
Greco-Roman (since 1896)
Soviet Union 37 19 13 69
Finland 19 21 19 59
Hungary 15 10 11 36
Turkey 11 4 3 18
Bulgaria 9 14 7 30
Freestyle (since 1904)
USA 45 34 24 103
Soviet Union 31 17 15 63
Turkey 16 11 7 34
Japan 16 9 8 33
Sweden 8 10 8 26

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