TURKEY’S legendary triple Olympic gold medal profitable weightlifting champion Naim Suleymanoglu – dubbed “pocket Hercules” – has died aged 50.
Bulgarian-born Suleymanoglu, who had in late September been admitted to intensive care after struggling liver failure, died in hospital in Istanbul.
Suleymanoglu scored a historic hat-trick of consecutive Olympic titles beginning in Seoul in 1988 then Barcelona in 1992 and Atlanta in 1996.
His exploits made him a nationwide hero in Turkey, the place he’s thought to be one of many best sports activities personalities within the nation’s historical past.
However the path to stardom for Suleymanoglu, who was born Naim Suleimanov as a member of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, was not easy.
He initially competed for Bulgaria however defected from the then Communist-bloc japanese European state in December 1986 in the course of the Weightlifting World Cup in Melbourne.
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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.
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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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