It takes muscle, technique and a lot of nerve to put 413 pounds
of iron over your head, especially when the tonnage represents
roughly three times your body weight. The bar bows, red and
green disks like locomotive wheels sagging around your ears.
Takes nerve, mostly, if you've never lifted that much before.
And nobody had, not on this podium. This was uncharted territory
for 141-pound weightlifters, even for these dueling diesels, the
Turk and the Greek. In the first half, the snatch, their
brinksmanship seemed comical. The Pocket Hercules, Turkey's Naim
Suleymanoglu, committed to one weight and then decided it was
insufficient to his reputation. "Stop the clock!" the announcer
shouted. "Suleymanoglu wants more!" By the time Suleymanoglu and
his chief rival, Greece's Valerios Leonidis, who trailed by just
over five pounds, decided to make their first attempts in the
clean and jerk, everyone else was out.
But the two had placed themselves at a perilous brink. The
Pocket Hercules would take his first attempt at 396 pounds;
although the two-time gold medalist had lifted more in his life,
it was a ridiculous entry point. But the Turk made it, and then
so did the Greek. Everyone in the hall sensed a shoot-out
developing. Suleymanoglu, in a preemptive strike, upped the
weight 11 more pounds, to 407 ("He wants more!") and shattered
the world record. And then a desperate Leonidis cleared 413--10
more than his previous world record--for the lead.
The colored weights had been like huge casino chips all day; in
his final turn, Suleymanoglu seemed to realize he had made a bet
he might not be able to cover. He stood at the bar for as long
as he could, touched it daintily with two fingers, and then
heaved it in two motions to the sky. Pandemonium! The sight was
bizarre: a man 4'11", motionless under slightly bouncing
weights. Leonidis was perhaps broken by the vision. To win he
would need to lift 418 3/4 in his final try and, really, that
was too much. Everybody knew it.
August 4, 1996
So the Greek, his reservoir of nerve emptied, grasped the bar
but--too much!--couldn't lift it beyond a squat before dropping
it to the podium where it finally rested, where that much
weight, everybody realized, really belonged.