Legendary weightlifter Süleymanoğlu fights for life

Published 26.09.2017 21:54
Updated 26.09.2017 21:56
Legendary weightlifter Süleymanoğlu fights for life

Legendary Turkish weightlifter Naim Süleymanoğlu, better known as ‘The Pocket Hercules,’ is fighting for his life after liver failure

Multiple World and Olympic weightlifting champion Turkey's Naim Süleymanoğlu has been placed into intensive care on Monday due to a liver failure. He was taken to Bakırköy Dr. Sadi Konuk Research and Training Hospital. Mehmet Emin Güneş, the hospital's head physician said yesterday, "Naim Süleymaonğlu has already been treated in our hospital for a while. But we put him into intensive care two days ago due to chronical liver failure. As of this morning, he regained consciousness. He can answer our questions."

A real legend in world weightlifting, Naim Süleymanoğlu was born in Bulgaria in 1967. But as ethnic Turks were persecuted and discriminated against in Bulgaria, Süleymanoğlu defected to Turkey at the age of 19.

His achievements in the Olympics games is a heroic tale of determination and sportsmanship. The Seoul Games in 1988, saw the birth of a superstar as Süleymanoğlu set six world records, won a gold medal, and even out-lifted the winner of the weight class above his own. His Seoul successes helped him become a global star. In Turkey, he became a cult hero. He was nicknamed "The Pocket Hercules" due to his small stature of 1.47 meter.

He was the first and only weightlifter to have snatched 2.5 times his body weight and is the second of only seven lifters to clean and jerk three times his own body weight. Süleymanoğlu is the only weightlifter to clean and jerk 10 kilograms more than triple his bodyweight. He is the only weightlifter in history ever to win gold medals in three different Olympics.

Süleymanoğlu life story is comparable to that of a Hollywood movie. Born into a poor family in Kircaali, Bulgaria in 1967, Süleymanoğlu faced discrimination like most others from the country's oppressed ethnic Turkish minority. The son of a bus driver, he had very short arms and legs, with a long torso at birth. His mother was worried about his odd proportions. She got even more worried when he began lifting weights as a young boy. She feared that his growth would suffer.

Eventually, at the age of 10, he was sent to a sports school where he could train. Süleymanoğlu first showed the glimpses of his talent when he set his first world record at the age of 16. However, 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 Süleymanoğlu managed to flee the country and entered Turkey. After applying for Turkish citizenship, he changed his name from Suleymanov to Süleymanoğlu. He was cleared to represent Turkey at the 1988 Games after the 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 the memory of those who watched the performance. Locked in an epic battle with his great rival Valerios Leonidis of Greece, Süleymanoğlu traded three world record lifts with the Greek in a stadium filled with Turks and Greeks. Süleymanoğlu finally clinched the gold when he lifted 187.5 kilograms and Leonidis failed to lift 190 kilograms. The Greek was reduced to tears and told Süleymanoğlu "Naim, you are the best." But Süleymanoğlu was quick to comfort his Greek rival saying "No, Valerios we're both the best."

"You have just witnessed the greatest weightlifting competition in history," the announcer said.

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