Thousands of fans applauded wildly Friday when an American wrestler honored the Iranian flag at a tournament that has raised prospects of improved relations between the two estranged countries.
Zeke Jones waved a tiny paper Iranian flag after being awarded the silver medal in the 119-pound class at the Takhti Cup tournament - the first event attended by an American sports team since the ouster of the U.S.-backed shah in 1979.Hours later, Jones and his four colleagues left Tehran, concluding a tournament in which they won few medals but swept the hearts of the crowd.
That was reflected again late Friday when, shortly after Jones' demonstration, U.S. wrestler Melvin Douglas went to take his silver medal carrying a portrait of Iran's hard-line spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"Douglas! Douglas!" the fans roared as the 1992 Olympic champion accepted the medal and raised the framed portrait of Khamenei - Iran's most senior leader who insists there can be no warming of ties with the United States.
But for the 12,000 fans, feelings for the Americans couldn't be warmer.
They applauded U.S. wrestler Kevin Jackson and showered him with paper Iranian flags as he trotted around the arena with the gold medal he won against Iran's Fereidoon Qambari in the 187-pound category.