Iran's wrestling team visited the United States for the first time in a decade and found a virtual home meet.
The fans waving Iranian flags and stomping on the temporary bleachers were treated to a show of dominance by the wrestling power Wednesday in the exhibition at Grand Central Terminal. Iran beat the Americans 6-1.
"It's typical Iranian. Wherever we go, they do the same thing," two-time world champion Mehdi Taghavi Kermani said through a translator after winning his match at 145½ pounds.
The fans' chanting and horn-blowing echoed off the high-arching ceiling and through the curtains separating Vanderbilt Hall from the commuters rushing home to the suburbs. The event dubbed "The Rumble on the Rails" marked the fourth straight year a New York City landmark was transformed into a wrestling meet to raise money for charity, with the last two in Times Square.
But this one took on added significance beyond supporting wrestling nonprofit Beat the Streets. In February, the International Olympic Committee recommended that the sport be dropped starting with the 2020 Games.
So there were the United States, Iran and Russia all together Wednesday, hoping the IOC takes to heart the symbolism of the three nations peacefully sharing a wrestling mat. Several top American wrestlers who did not face Iran, including Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs, were scheduled to compete against Russia later in the day.
Iran also will face the U.S. in Los Angeles on Sunday.
"This is what we're trying to do right now," said 22-year-old Kyle Dake, who could be an American star of the 2020 Olympics. "This is how we're going to save Olympic wrestling."
The youngster was the lone bright spot for the U.S. against Iran. At 163 pounds, he beat veteran Hassan Tahmasebi, who's almost 10 years older, in his first major senior-level international match.
In March, Dake became the first wrestler to win NCAA titles in four weight classes. College wrestling uses folkstyle, and Dake hadn't competed in freestyle in more than a year before Wednesday. Both his periods were scoreless and went to a leg clinch, and he won the first despite losing the ball draw.
"It was really loud in there. Feels like we were in Tehran," he joked. "What's going on? Where's our USA folks?"