When Georgian wrestlers compete in the London Summer Olympics, they will be defending more than their country’s two 2008 gold medals. For the wrestling team, the 2012 Games are an important stop on a decades-long journey back to international prominence.
Thirteen members of the country’s 35-strong Olympic contingent are wrestlers, competing in every weight class but one, and putting tiny Georgia in the same league as Russia, the United States and Kazakhstan. Georgian wrestling (“chidaoba”) can trace its history back over a thousand years as a form of self-defense. Its champions have won Olympic medals since 1952, the year when Georgians brought home the Soviet Union’s first two gold medals in freestyle wrestling.
But the sport fell into disarray as Georgia grappled with war and civil unrest following the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. As funding dried up, athletes grappled with “cold and hunger,” and coaches worked out of enthusiasm alone, recounted two-time Olympic champion Davit Gobejishvili, head of the Georgian Wrestling Federation from 1994 to 2001.
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Molly Corso is a freelance journalist who also works as editor of Investor.ge, a monthly publication by the American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia.