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A POCKET FULL OF POWER IN A HERCULEAN PERFORMANCE, NAIM SULEYMANOGLU OF TURKEY MADE OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING HISTORY

A POCKET FULL OF POWER IN A HERCULEAN PERFORMANCE, NAIM SULEYMANOGLU OF TURKEY MADE OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING HISTORY

The little guy popped up the five steps leading to the platform,
the handrail practically at his shoulder. Naim Suleymanoglu of
Turkey--Pocket Hercules, so-called--is five feet tall standing
on his stubby toes and weighs just under the 141-pound
weight-class limit.

This is an article from the July 23, 1996 issue

He dipped his hands in a chalk bin and dangled them over a bar
weighted down with 325 pounds. He had already hoisted 319 1/2
pounds in his first snatch lift. He had already failed at 325 in
his second. Last chance in the snatch. Last chance, in all
likelihood, to become the first weightlifter to win gold medals
in three consecutive Olympics.

Yes, there was still the clean-and-jerk portion of the
competition, but what would it mean if he couldn't lift 325 in
the snatch? Nothing, nothing. He would be too far behind to make
up the difference in the jerk. Yes, sure, he would still be
Turkey's most celebrated athlete, a living monument to strength
and will and the power of monetary influence. (Turkey paid
Bulgaria $1 million to allow Suleymanoglu to become a Turkish
citizen in time for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.) At 29, he could
still attempt to embark on his next career, to become the next
Arnold Schwarzenegger. But what would a silver or bronze finish
do to his innate swagger? Would his status as Pocket Hercules be
diminished?

His allotted minute over the bar ticked away until there were
only 14 seconds remaining. He opened his mouth and a guttural
noise erupted from deep in his belly. He got the bar to his
navel, and his mouth snapped shut. Then he pushed the bar to his
forehead, and a cryptic little smile came to his face. He knew
he would make it the rest of the way, and he did.

Suleymanoglu's countrymen waved their red-and-white,
moon-and-a-star flags and broke out into song--the Village
People's anthem, YMCA. There was rejoicing in the stands and on
the platform. Triumph belonged to Pocket Hercules and his
people. Or so it seemed. Then came the jerk.

It wasn't supposed to be this way, but there it was. Valerios
Leonidis of Greece, 30 and running out of chances, lifted 4131/4
pounds in his second attempt, setting a world record. His
countrymen, seated across from the Turks, began waving their
blue-and-white flags. Now it was Suleymanoglu's turn to match
Leonidis, and he did, on his third and last jerk. More
flag-waving, more cheering. The scriptwriters were enchanted,
for Leonidis had one more lift, and if he could raise an
audacious figure--418 3/4 pounds--gold would be his.

The chalk dust that Suleymanoglu's pumping fist had sent into
the air of the subterranean hall of the Georgia World Congress
Center after his final lift had long since settled. His little
finger-nod to the judges, the hug from his coach, none of that
mattered. The Greek lifter hunched over the bar. He got it off
the ground but not above his head. Suleymanoglu closed his eyes
in ecstacy. His total, 335 kilograms (7381/2 pounds), was a
world record. A third gold was his.

COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY TOM LYNN COVER PHOTO NAIM SULEYMANOGLU BECOMES A THREE-TIME OLYMPIC CHAMPION [Naim Suleymanoglu holding weights over his head]COLOR PHOT: JIM GUND On his last snatch attempt, Suleymanoglu held up under pressure. [Naim Suleymanoglu lifting weights]