Little Big Man Pound for pound, Turkey's Naim Suleymanoglu is the best

Sept. 14, 1988
Sept. 14, 1988

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Sept. 14, 1988

Medal Picks

Little Big Man Pound for pound, Turkey's Naim Suleymanoglu is the best

THE LITTLE MAN FROM TURKEY BY way of Bulgaria walks calmly to the
weightlifting bar in a state of almost hypnotic serenity. A hint of a
smile is on the face of Naim Suleymanoglu (pronounced na-EEM
soo-lay-MAHN-oo-loo) as he squats and grips the bar. Suddenly the
smile vanishes and the bar rises. The five-foot Suleymanoglu -- or
Pocket Hercules, as he's also known -- has hoisted something like 400
pounds into locked position over his head. A horn sounds. The lift is
Weightlifting devotees can hardly wait until Suleymanoglu goes
into action at the Games in the 132 1/4-pound class. If not for the
Eastern bloc boycott, he likely would have won three gold medals --
at the tender age of 16 -- at the Los Angeles Olympics four years
ago. He is, pound for pound, the world's best lifter.
Suleymanoglu's daring 1986 defection from Bulgaria to Turkey and
triumphant return to competition at this year's European
championships in Cardiff, Wales, have only added to the drama of his
appearance in Seoul. Under International Olympic Committee rules,
Suleymanoglu was not to be eligible for Olympic competition until
1989, unless Bulgaria granted him a waiver. In May, Bulgarian sports
officials agreed to allow Pocket Hercules to compete in Seoul for
Turkey -- in exchange for a reported $1.5 million from the Turkish
government. For their investment, Suleymanoglu will likely bring the
Turks, who have never won a medal in weightlifting, three gold medals
-- one in the snatch, one in the clean and jerk and one for total
The Bulgarians can afford to let their former star claim one
weight class. They are so advanced at developing lifting talent that
they have surpassed the Soviet Union, a country with 40 times as many
registered lifters. The Bulgarian training program takes
scientifically selected 12-year-olds and builds them up until they
can handle several sessions a day of extremely heavy lifting. ''The
mystery is, How can the athletes recover?'' says Aniko Nemeth- Mora,
a Hungarian who is coeditor of the Budapest-based World Weightlifting
magazine. ''The Bulgarians lift morning to night. It is more than
seems possible.''
The Bulgarians, who claim to have sworn off steroids since two of
their best lifters tested positive at the 1976 Olympics, say that
intensive massage, whirlpool therapy and periodic fasting enable them
to handle the staggering training load. Whatever, Bulgaria's 10-man
lineup for Seoul is strong from bottom to top, beginning with
Sevdalin Marinov (114 3/4-pound class), continuing with Mikhail
Petrov (148 3/4 pounds) and ending with superheavyweight Antonio
The Soviets are still recovering from a 1984 drug scandal in which
superheavyweight Alexander Kurlovich and a teammate were caught
carrying steroids through Montreal's Mirabel Airport on their way to
a meet. Both lifters were suspended from international competition
for two years. The Soviets now seem to be panicking in an effort to
catch Bulgaria. ''They have a lot of problems,'' says International
Weightlifting Federation president Gottfried Schodl of Austria.
''They are changing officials, changing coaches.''
The Soviets do have two magnificent lifters in Anatoli Khrapaty
(198 1/4 pounds) and Yuri Zakharevich (242 1/2 pounds), who has set
33 world records. For a sure thrill in Seoul, however, keep your eyes
on Pocket Hercules.

This is an article from the Sept. 14, 1988 issue