Naim Suleymanoglu was born to Turkish parents living in Bulgaria. Only 1.47m tall, he quickly attracted attention for his weightlifting ability. Nicknamed “The Pocket Hercules”, he set his first world record aged just 15. He dominated the sport for over a decade and by the time he finished his career, he had set an astonishing 46 world records.
Bulgaria boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games, but a few weeks later Suleymanoglu lifted 30kg more than the Olympic winner in his weight category. In 1986, Suleymanoglu defected to Turkey, the country of his descent. At the 1988 Seoul Games, he broke the world record in both the snatch and the jerk in the featherweight division, and won the gold medal by 30kg.
Such was Suleymanoglu’s dominance in his division, he went undefeated for eight-and-a-half years. But at the 1992 European Championships he was beaten by Nikolay Peshalov of Bulgaria. Three months later, at the Barcelona Games, Suleymanoglu reasserted his dominance and beat his rival by 15kg.
Four years later, Suleymanoglu broke his own world record to win a closely fought contest. This made him the first weightlifter to claim gold at three different Olympic Games. At the 2000 Sydney Games, he bravely tried to make it four but failed. In 2001, he received the Olympic Order from Juan Antonio Samaranch, then President of the International Olympic Committee.