Multiple World and Olympic weightlifting champion Naim Süleymanoğlu has died at the age of 50 after having been placed into intensive care at the Ataşehir Memorial in Istanbul, Turkish media said Saturday.
Bulgarian-born Suleymanoğlu was admitted to the Memorial Ataşehir Hospital on Sept. 28 due to liver failure caused by cirrhosis and underwent a liver transplant on Oct. 6. He remained in intensive care following a brain hemorrhage and underwent further surgery on Nov. 11, according to a medical statement.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offered his condolences in his address at Justice and Development (AK) party's ordinary congress in his hometown Rize.
The athlete, nicknamed "Pocket Hercules" due to his short stature, became a global star after setting six world records, winning three Olympic gold medals and out lifting the winner of the weight class above him at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.
Although Süleymanoğlu set his first world record when he was 15, he missed his first chance at Olympic success in 1984 when Bulgaria joined the Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games.
After winning the world championship in 1988, he retired at the age of 22. However, he returned in 1991 to win a second Olympic gold at Barcelona in 1992.
He built up one of the sport's greatest ever rivalries with Greece's Valerios Leonidis which was followed avidly by Turkish and Greek communities across the world. Trading world records with Valerios Leonidis, Süleymanoğlu eventually won his third Olympic gold medal.
His funeral will be held on Sunday at Istanbul's Fatih mosque. His greatest rival Leonidis will also attend the ceremony upon the invitation by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Osman Aşkın Bak.
In 2000 and 2004 he was elected to the International Weightlifting Federation Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Olympic Order, the highest award of the Olympic movement, in 2001.
Süleymanoğlu is the only weightlifter in history to win gold medals in three different Olympics.