TEHRAN: As the US and Iran wrangle over sanctions and missile tests, their athletes grappled in the ring on Friday in wrestling’s Freestyle World Cup final, with the Iranians emerging victorious.
Iran won the tournament in five out of eight weight categories following three days of bouts in the Kurdish-majority city of Kermanshah.
Iranian wrestlers won the first four lightweight categories, but local fans were shocked when Iranians then lost the next three rounds.
That piled the pressure on Komeil Ghasemi as he faced a showdown with American Nick Gwiazdowski in the final 125-kilo (275-pound) weight class.
Ghasemi won the round five nil to deliver the Islamic republic the winner’s prize — a steel cup on a golden sphere.
Last year’s competition saw Iran beat a Russian team to claim the title on US soil.
This year’s event was overshadowed by political tensions between Tehran and Washington, which have spiked since President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The American team’s 13 wrestlers were initially denied visas to compete following Trump’s ban on travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran.
But they were subsequently allowed to travel after the ban was halted by a US federal court.
“I’m very thankful for the warm reception we received today and even more grateful that this trip was made possible,” wrote two-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist Jordan Burroughs on Instagram.
“We are very happy to be here in Iran and ready to compete!” he added, under an image showing him surrounded by Iranian wrestling fans wielding cellphones at the airport.
The overturning of Trump’s executive order also allowed Iran to send most of its teenage archery team to compete in the United States last week.
Tensions between the two countries escalated after Iran tested a ballistic missile last month and Washington responded with a raft of new sanctions against individuals and groups linked to its weapons programme.
Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have also traded barbs after the US leader said this month he was putting Tehran “on notice” after the missile launch.
Wrestling is a popular sport in Iran, and local media reported fans queueing outside the stadium for tickets to the final bouts.
“So much love and respect for USA and wrestling here in Kermanshah, Iran,” wrote another wrestler, Richard Perry, on Instagram.
“Don’t believe everything you hear or read in the media. Wrestling transcends!!”