Naim Süleymanoğlu, a person of modest stature however colossal energy, scribed his golden identify in Turkish and worldwide sports activities historical past because the legendary “Pocket Hercules.”
His impression prolonged far past weightlifting, making him an icon within the realm of athletic achievement and human resilience.
Standing at a mere 1.47 meters (4 toes 10 inches) tall, Süleymanoğlu’s outstanding journey by way of the world of weightlifting started with three consecutive Olympic gold medals in Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992, and Atlanta 1996.
Tragically, Süleymanoğlu’s life was minimize brief when he succumbed to liver failure on the age of fifty on Nov. 18, 2017, laying to relaxation one of many best sporting icons in Türkiye’s historical past, as he discovered his remaining resting place in an Istanbul cemetery.
As Türkiye prepares to commemorate the one centesimal anniversary of the proclamation of the republic, Süleymanoğlu’s story takes middle stage, highlighting his distinctive achievements, and his distinctive place in Turkish sports activities historical past as one of many best Olympic weightlifters of all time.
Born to Turkish mother and father in Kardzhali, southern Bulgaria, on Jan. 23, 1967, Süleymanoğlu launched into his weightlifting journey on the tender age of 9.
His ascent was meteoric; he represented Bulgaria and clinched the 1982 World Junior Championships in Sao Paulo, marking his first world title and setting his first world document on the age of simply 15.
Süleymanoğlu’s brilliance was simple, incomes him the title of the world’s greatest weightlifter in 1984, 1985, and 1986.
Nonetheless, the political local weather of the period led to a big twist in his story, as Bulgaria, beneath Todor Zhivkov’s regime, compelled a reputation change upon him, with out his consent, rebranding him as Naum Shalamanov.
The Nineteen Eighties bore witness to the systematic oppression of Bulgaria’s Turkish minority, compelling them to undertake Slavic names and banning their native language.
The ensuing turmoil compelled many Turkish Bulgarians to hunt refuge in neighboring Türkiye.
The turning level arrived on the 1988 Seoul Olympic Video games when Süleymanoğlu transcended right into a legend.
He shattered data by lifting 190 kg. (419 kilos) within the clear and jerk, a feat that exceeded 3 times his personal physique weight, making him the one weightlifter to realize such a outstanding feat.
His gold medal win in Seoul was an unimaginable triumph, and this victory got here two years after Süleymanoğlu defected to Türkiye in protest in opposition to the oppressive Bulgarian regime.
The story of his escape from Bulgaria is a gripping chapter in his life.
Initially a Bulgarian athlete till 1986, Süleymanoğlu seized a chance throughout a visit with the Bulgarian nationwide workforce to the World Cup in Melbourne to flee the oppressive regime.
His escape was nothing in need of a high-stakes journey, as he risked his life to elude Bulgarian authorities.
Süleymanoğlu’s path to freedom led him to the Turkish Embassy in Australia, the place he sought refuge.
It was throughout this time that he was nonetheless referred to as Naum.
In a clandestine operation, he was airlifted from Australia to London after which to Türkiye’s capital, Ankara, with the assistance of a non-public jet despatched by then-Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal.
Bulgaria agreed to let him symbolize Türkiye in worldwide competitions in trade for a considerable charge of $1 million paid by the Turkish authorities.
His defection introduced worldwide consideration to the plight of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria in the course of the Nineteen Eighties, shedding gentle on the oppression they endured.
4 years after clinching an Olympic gold for Türkiye, Süleymanoğlu was additional acknowledged for his greatness.
In 1992, he was named the very best athlete globally by the Worldwide Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Press Fee.
His profession was punctuated by gold medals in three consecutive Olympic Video games – 1988, 1992, and 1996 – alongside seven world and European titles and a staggering 46 world data.
Türkiye’s Naim Süleymanoğlu (C) celebrates his gold medal on the rostrum in the course of the Males’s featherweight 60 kg. class weightlifting competitors on the XXIV Summer time Olympic Video games, Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 20, 1988. (Getty Photographs Photograph)
Süleymanoğlu’s journey, nevertheless, confronted a momentary setback on the 2000 Sydney Video games, resulting in his retirement that 12 months.
In a testomony to his world recognition, Süleymanoğlu graced the duvet of Time journal’s worldwide version on Oct. 3, 1988, following his spectacular efficiency on the Seoul Video games.
The headline boldly declared, “Everyone Wins.”
His life story was even immortalized in a movie launched in 2019.
Portrayed by Turkish-Dutch actor Hayat Van Eck, the drama film titled “Cep Herkulu (Pocket Hercules): Naim Süleymanoğlu” captured his escape from Bulgaria, the oppression he endured, and his historic victory in Seoul in 1988.
Naim Süleymanoğlu’s journey from a younger boy lifting weights in Bulgaria to a globally celebrated sports activities icon stands as a testomony to his indomitable spirit and unwavering dedication.
His legacy endures as an inspiration to aspiring athletes and a reminder of the enduring energy of human resilience within the face of adversity.