- 23 Jan 2007
- Olympic News
Strong as an ox!
You could say that Naim Suleymanoglu was born with a barbell in his hands! Indeed, this 1.58m tall weightlifter set his first record at 15 by lifting adult-category weights. Short in height, but great in strength, Naim Suleymanoglu truly marked Olympic history. His 40th birthday is the ideal occasion to look back at the great career of this athlete.
The Games with arms outstretched
In 1984, the young Bulgarian was preparing for the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Unfortunately, Bulgaria decided that same year to boycott the Games, depriving Naim of what would have been his first Olympic participation. Disappointed, he left the country of his birth took the nationality of his parents. In 1986, he set up home in Turkey and could thus represent the country at the next Olympic Games.
Hence, in 1988, Naim Suleymanoglu flew to Seoul to defend his adoptive country at the Games of the XXIV Olympiad. Entered in the featherweight category, he took only two attempts to beat two world records: 152.5kg in the snatch and 190kg in the clean-and-jerk. He ended up winning this event, lifting 30kg more than Bulgaria’s Stefan Topurov, ranked second. He achieved an even better result than the Olympic champion of the higher category: the combined total weight was 2.5kg more than that lifted by Joachim Kunz, winner of the lightweight event. The Turkish weightlifter left his first Games with a gold medal around his neck.
After a series of victories, Suleymanoglu lost at the European Championships to Bulgaria’s Nikolay Peshalov. He seemed to be on a downward spiral. But four years later, at the Barcelona Games, he picked himself up and repeated his performance of Seoul, once again taking the Olympic gold. In the final, he lifted 15kg more than Nikolay Peshalov.
In Atlanta in 1996, the double Olympic champion returned for his third Games. Still in the same category, this time he was beaten in the clean-and-jerk by Greece’s Valerios Leonidis. He made up for this by lifting 147.5kg in the snatch, and in the final managed a total of 335kg. He thus took his third gold medal in as many editions of the Games.
In 2000 in Sydney, Naim Suleymanoglu tried to defend his title in vain. After three fruitless attempts at the snatch with a bar of 145kg, he was eliminated from the competition.
A Herculean discipline
At only 16 years of age, Naim Suleymanoglu became only the second weightlifter capable of lifting three times his weight in the clean-and-jerk. This feat heralded the beginning of one of the greatest careers in weightlifting. Often perceived as being simple, this discipline certainly is not. It requires speed, technique, concentration and synchronisation. Naim Suleymanoglu illustrated perfectly the complexity of this sport. He was able to establish a solid balance between his mental and physical strength, in such a way that at a precise moment all his being came together and focused on a single objective: to lift the bar.
As well as his 16 world championship titles, Naim Suleymanoglu collected three gold medals at three Olympic Games. He thus marked both weightlifting and Olympism, and helped to modernise the sport which is as old as humanity itself.