Olympic legend: Naim Suleymanoglu, the Pocket Hercules

Olympic legend: Naim Suleymanoglu, the Pocket Hercules
Naim Suleymanoglu snatches 147.5 kg on his way to his third Olympic weightlifting gold medal in Atlanta with a combined world record lift of 335 kilograms.

Istanbul - Suleymanoglu defied all odds to become the greatest weightlifter in Olympic history

By KT Report

Published: Mon 18 Jul 2016, 5:27 PM

Last updated: Tue 19 Jul 2016, 12:41 AM

Naim Suleymanoglu was born in Bulgaria as Naum Shalamanov. But due to the ethnic discrimination against Turks in Bulgaria, Suleymanoglu defected to Turkey at 19. For two years, he didn't see his family.
For a man who had to face such odds so early in his life, Naum Shalamanov's Olympics achievements as a record-breaking weightlifter is indeed incredible.
It all started when the Turkish government paid Bulgaria $1 million to have his ban lifted so Suleymanoglu could represent Turkey in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. And the Seoul Games saw the birth of a superstar as Suleymanoglu set six world records, won a gold medal, and even out-lifted the winner of the weight class above his own.
His Seoul exploits helped him become a global star. In Turkey, he became a cult hero whose victory parades drew millions of dollars. The whole of Turkey just could not stop loving him when he said "I'm a Turk" at the Seoul Games.
Suleymanoglu was known as the 'Pocket Hercules'. For a small man he was blessed with great strength. He is the only weightlifter ever to win gold medals in three different Olympics. Born into a poor family in Kircali, Bulgaria in 1967, Suleymanoglu faced discrimination like most others from the country's oppressed ethnic Turkish minority.
Son of a bus driver, Suleymanoglu had very short arms and legs, with a long torso at birth. His mother was worried with his odd proportions. She got more worried when he began lifting weights as a young boy. She feared that his growth would suffer. Eventually, he was sent to a sports school where he could be trained when he was 10.
Suleymanoglu first showed the glimpses of his talent when he set his first world record at 16, but he missed out on the chance to participate in his first Olympics in 1984 as Bulgaria boycotted the Games in Los Angeles.
After the 1984 Games, the communist regime in Bulgaria ordered people from the minority Turkish community to adopt Bulgarian names and this was when Suleymanoglu managed to flee the country and entered Turkey. After applying for Turkish citizenship, he changed his name from Shalamanov to the Suleymanoglu.
He was cleared to represent Turkey at the 1988 Games after its government paid Bulgaria $1 million to have his ban lifted.
After his historic display in Seoul, he retired at the age of 22 with a World Championship gold medal in his pocket.
But he came out of retirement to win two more Olympic gold medals in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996).
His herculean effort to win the gold in Atlanta will remain etched in memory of those who saw it. Locked in an epic battle with his great rival Valerios Leonidis of Greece, Suleymanoglu traded three world record lifts with the Greek in a stadium filled with vociferous Turks and Greeks.
Suleymanoglu finally clinched the gold when he lifted 413.37 pounds and Leonidis failed to lift 418.88 pounds. The Greek was reduced to tears and Suleymanoglu was the first man in the arena to comfort him. "You have just witnessed the greatest weightlifting competition in history," the announcer said.
He may have failed in his attempt to win a fourth Olympic gold four years later in Sydney, but Suleymanoglu's position as an all-time Olympic great was already established. His seven world championship gold medals added more feathers to his cap.

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