Legendary Turkish Olympic champion Suleymanoglu dies


Legendary Turkish Olympic champion Suleymanoglu dies
(FILES) This file photo taken on July 22, 1996 shows Turkish Olympic team Naim Suleymanoglu snatching 147.5 kg on his way to win his third Olympic weightlifting gold medal in the featherweight (64) division at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta with a combined world record lift of 335 kilograms. Naïm Suleymanoglu died at the age of 50 on November 17, 2017, state news agency Anadolu reported on November 18. / AFP PHOTO / DIMITRI MESSINIS

Turkey’s legendary triple Olympic gold medal winning weightlifting champion Naim Suleymanoglu, dubbed the “pocket Hercules” for generating huge power from his diminutive frame, has died aged 50, state media said.

The Bulgarian-born Suleymanoglu, who had in late September been admitted to intensive care after suffering liver failure, died in hospital in Istanbul, the Anadolu news agency said.

Suleymanoglu scored a historic hat-trick of consecutive Olympic titles starting in Seoul in 1988 then Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996.

His exploits made him a national hero in Turkey, where he is regarded as one of the greatest sports personalities in the country’s history.

But the path to stardom for Suleymanoglu, who was born Naim Suleimanov as a member of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, was not smooth.

(FILES) This file photo taken on July 28, 1992 shows Turkish weightlifter Naïm Suleymanoglu kissing his gold medal he won in the up of 60kg category in Barcelona Olympics games.Naïm Suleymanoglu died at the age of 50 on November 17, 2017, state news agency Anadolu reported on November 18. / AFP PHOTO / DIMITRI MESSINIS

He initially competed for Bulgaria but defected from the then Communist-bloc eastern European state in December 1986 during the Weightlifting World Cup in Melbourne.

In an episode that caused a sensation at the time, Suleymanoglu left for London aboard the Turkish prime minister’s jet, taking him onward to Turkey where he was given a national hero’s welcome.

Bulgaria fumed over his defection and Suleymanoglu was initially suspended for a year. But he then stormed to victory at the 1988 Games.

(FILES) This file photo taken on July 28, 1992 shows Champion and world record holder Turkey’s Naim Suleymanoglu competing as he holds up 170kg in the men’s weightlifting event (60kg category) during the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, in Barcelona.Naïm Suleymanoglu died at the age of 50 on November 17, 2017, state news agency Anadolu reported on November 18. / AFP PHOTO / DIMITRI MESSINIS

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.

After picking up a third Olympic title in Atlanta, he tried a comeback at the 2000 Sydney Games but suffered a rare failure and subsequently dabbled in politics.

 

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