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American wrestlers getting cheers from Iran sports fans

The American wrestlers who came to Tehran declaring they would concentrate on sports are being drawn into diplomacy whether they like it or not.

"We have said we will not talk politics, but it's really hard to avoid it," said delegation leader Larry Sciacchetano.Team member Zeke Jones was the first American to compete, defeating opponent Luv-san Ish of Mongolia Thursday in the 118-pound weight class.

Jones, wearing blue wrestling tights emblazoned with the red-white-and-blue U.S. flag, received the loudest applause of the day as he stepped onto the mat.

"That was a beautiful performance by Jones. He's got one of the best techniques in the world. Zeke was the first real champion on the mat today," said Mohammad Reza Taleqani, vice president of the Iranian Wrestling Federation.

Jones, like most of the other four wrestlers on the American team, has won or placed in his category at world championships, and the Iranian wrestling fans are pleased to see them compete. They also are expected at the world championships here in September.

On Wednesday, members of the 10-man delegation sought to see a bit of the country that has been off-limits to almost all Americans since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. After some discussion with their Iranian hosts, they ventured into the Tehran bazaar, the sprawling, chaotic commercial heart of the Iranian capital.