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banner Wednesday, 10 January, 2001, 15:21 GMT
Cornish wrestling - the last round?
Cornish wrestling is a very physical sport played outdoors
Cornish wrestling is a very physical sport

Close Up: The Final Round?
BBC Two South West 11 January 1930GMT

Achieving the status of ultimate champion in your chosen sport is often a precursor to worldwide fame and great riches.

But for the devotees of Cornish wrestling, the fact there is still such an honour to win is as satisfying as any glory the title could possibly impart.

Close Up, follows the build-up to this year's Cornish wrestling heavyweight championship at St Minver.

The programme-makers teamed up with Glyn Jones the current champion and his main opponent Gerry Cawley.

For the first time TV cameras record the heavyweight championship of Cornwall.

Sykes Chapman with Francis Gregory
Sykes Chapman with Francis Gregory
Gerry wrestles Glyn for Cornish wrestling's ultimate prize.

But what is at stake is more than just personal pride - some say it is a fight for the very heart and soul of the sport itself.

Programme producer Jeff Wilkinson explained: "Cornish wrestling is absolutely unique, totally original, and is in danger of disappearing.

"People have said the Cornish have lost their language, their mining, their fishing is in decline but wrestling has just about survived.

"It has limped into the new Millennium but extra special attention is needed to maintain its existence.

"And it is really important that is survives because it is an important part of Cornish heritage and tradition."

Mists of time

Cornish wrestling is an ancient Celtic sport.

Similar styles of wrestling were once practised in Ireland and in Wales - but have now disappeared.

The sport's origins are lost in the mists of time - at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 Cornish wrestlers led the English Army into war.

In the sixteenth century King Henry the Eighth defeated Francis the First of France in a famous wrestling match on the Field of the Cloth of Gold.

What is known with certainty is that by the middle of the nineteenth century wrestling was the most popular sport in the county.

Glyn Jones is the current heavyweight champion
Glyn Jones is the current heavyweight champion
Newspaper accounts reveal how hundreds of wrestlers would compete over several days watched by crowds of up to twenty thousand people.

Glyn is a judo expert who turned his hand to Cornish wrestling just three years ago and has dominated the sport ever since.

His arch rival, Gerry, resents the influence of judo on Cornish wrestling - having wrestled for 23 years he considers himself a purist.

Traditionalists

During his time Gerry has won everything there is to win in Cornish wrestling but at thirty eight years of age he says he is past his prime.

In the programme Gerry hits the comeback trail determined to win back his crown for the traditionalists.

In the 1930's the Cornish wrestling was dominated by one man - Francis Gregory - known as the champion who never smiled.

One of the few people to fight Gregory and win is Sykes Chapman, now in his eighties.

Sykes (a member of a famous wrestling family) went on to become heavyweight champion himself and remained undefeated for fourteen years.

Gerry Cawley is a veteran of the sport
Gerry Cawley is a veteran of the sport
In the programme he describes his epic bout with Gregory and his life as a wrestler.

Cornish wrestling still survives today - an unbroken tradition passed down from father to son and from workmate to workmate.

But only a handful of wrestlers remain watched by small numbers of spectators.

A sport once practised the length and breadth of the county is now confined to a small area deep in the heart of Cornwall.

The story is narrated by the bard and broadcaster Ted Gundry (of BBC Radio Cornwall) whose great great grandfather was twice heavyweight champion of the county during the 1860's.

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