Everything you saw was outsized, almost goofy. The vaults were
so much higher, the times so much faster, the jumps so much
longer that it was hard to believe these athletes were the same
species as the rest of us. These feats, except for beach
volleyball and softball, of course, were more than Olympian,
they were inhuman.
There was one sport, though, that seemed particularly
outrageous, ridiculous beyond belief: weightlifting. It was
possible to watch credulously as the heavyweights strained
against the barbells and snapped the tonnage to their shoulders
in herniating yelps. But when a 141-pound man muscles up the
nerve to put 413 pounds over his head, you have to draw the
line. This isn't a feat of strength, it's a parlor trick.
Turkey's 4'11" Naim Suleymanoglu, the so-called Pocket Hercules,
performed this kind of magic in a dramatic duel with Greece's
5'4 1/2" Valerios Leonidis. The competition, if you had never
seen one before, was an eye-opener. The gamesmanship, for one
thing, proved almost comical. Nobody's saying this is a
thinking-man's game, but strategy is part of it. When
Suleymanoglu, for example, committed to lifting one weight and
then decided it did not measure up to his reputation, the fans
went nuts. The announcer, who had been calm earlier--even when
he had to call "Blood on the bar"--now sounded alarmed. "Stop
the clock" he shouted. "Suleymanoglu wants more!"
A two-time gold medal winner, Suleymanoglu had only a 5
1/2-pound lead after the snatch, the first part of the
competition, and it was clear he could not shake Leonidis. In
the second half, the clean and jerk, Suleymanoglu first lifted
396 3/4 pounds. Leonidis matched him. Suleymanoglu increased the
weight to 407 3/4 and shattered the world record by 4 1/2
pounds. Then Leonidis lifted 413 1/4 pounds, challenging
Suleymanoglu to meet it. Suleymanoglu approached the bar,
daintily arranged his fingers around it, and then heaved it, in
two motions, above his head.
August 11, 1996
There was pandemonium. He stood motionless under the weights and
then tossed them to the platform, equaling Leonidis's record
lift and--combined with his snatch--setting another one.
Leonidis, who would need to lift 418 3/4 pounds in his final
try to win, was broken by the sight. On his attempt he couldn't
even get the bar above his chin.
It had all happened so fast, three world records in 10 minutes.
These little guys had just peeled themselves out of the Olympic
pack with their ridiculous feats, their tricks. To tell the
truth, it was a relief when it was over and all that weight
finally rested on the floor. Surely that's where it belonged.