Son of a renowned wrestler for yağlı güreş (oil wrestling), he moved with his family from their village İspidi in the Refahiye district of Erzincan Province to Istanbul at 4 years of age. In 1933, he was admitted to the national team and won the Balkan Championship the same year. Yaşar Erkan repeated his title wins in the following two years 1934 and 1935. In 1936, he became the first ever Turkish sportsman to win a gold medal at the Olympics. Before retiring in 1940, he won the Balkan Championship once again in 1937 in İzmir.