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Iran's wrestlers right at home in World Cup

AP - Sports

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) -- Iran's wrestlers are right at home in the Freestyle Wrestling World Cup.

Their raucous fans have seen to that.

''I really didn't anticipate so many Iranians here,'' 67-kilogram wrestler Masoud Esmailpoor Jouybari said through an interpreter. ''It was like being in Iran.''

Iran won its third straight title Sunday night, beating Russia 6-2 in the final.

Hundreds of Iranian fans have packed the Forum the past two days, waving flags, chanting loudly and blowing screeching horns for hours uninterrupted.

At times, the Iranian fans were so loud they drowned out the public address announcer, and they consistently drowned out the fan groups of the other nine nations competing.

''My first visit was to (the U.S) was to New York last year and we had maybe a 10th of all the spectators we have here,'' 57-kilo wrestler Hassan Rahimi said. ''I'm surprised. I didn't expect to have so much support here.''

The top-seeded Iranians opened with an 8-0 victory over Armenia, beat Turkey 7-1 and the United States 5-3 on Saturday. On Sunday, they routed India 8-0 and beat Russia for the title.

''It's been great. Our countrymen are here, we're not strangers,'' technical director Ali Reza Razaie said. ''They encourage us and we're really grateful.''

Jouybari led the way for Iran with wins in each of his five matches, including a pin and a come-from-behind 10-8 victory over the United States' Reece Humphrey.

All who spoke credited the crowd for their success.

''It's a big emotional and spiritual boost,'' Rahimi said. ''It helps us build the strength we need to win during the match.''

The fact that a large crowd showed up was not surprising given that wrestling is often referred to as Iran's national sport, and the team is known for drawing large crowds whenever it competes internationally.

The wrestlers said the crowd did more for them than just motivate them on the mat this time, however. It helped make their visit to the United States a memorable one, and an experience they won't forget.

''I have great memories of being here and being amongst Iranians,'' Rahimi said. ''We're going to leave with a lot of good memories and we hope to return.''

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