LEGENDS Naim Suleymanoglu set six world records in one night at the 1988 Seoul Games
A million awaited his arrival at Ankara airport, yet he was nowhere in sight. No, he hadn’t gone under cover. An inch short of five feet, he was simply engulfed by the entourage around him!
Turkey’s new-found favourite had brought home its first Olympic weightlifting gold medal from the 1988 Seoul Games. Among six world records he set in one night, Naim Suleymanoglu had eclipsed his nearest rival by a whopping 30kg!
“I get my strength from 55 million Turks who believe in me,” he said famously of that triumph. Born to a barely five foot tall miner-farmer father and 4’ 7” high mother of Turkish origin in the mountain village of Ptichar, resentment against their minority community ran high in Bulgaria, in a backlash to the Ottoman empire’s cruelty for five centuries. In an integration campaign ordered by the former East Bloc nation, the Suleimanovs were forced to assume the surname Shalamanov. The name was again changed to Chacamanov, reducing him to tears after that Korean capital conquest.
“I have done the greatest a man can do in sport,” he declared, “but my thoughts are not on the gold medal or the world records. My thoughts are with my family. My deepest hope is that they can join me in Turkey.”Two years before, Naim, then Naum, had vanished from a restaurant after the Melbourne World Cup and fled to London. Then he flew in Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal’s private jet to Ankara. Turkey bought Bulgaria’s waiver for Suleymanoglu to compete in Seoul for over $1 million. With the spotlight now on his suffering kinsmen, Bulgaria, under international pressure, was forced to allow migration of 300,000 to Turkey.
The precious metal was Suleymanoglu’s at the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics too. With 46 world records stashed under his belt, he straddled the weightlifting world like a latter day Colossus, securing him the sobriquet of Pocket Hercules.