Naim Suleymanoglu - Pocket Hercules

He defied the laws of gravity and his amazing achievements in weightlifting were beyond the realms of imagination.

He was the first to win three Olympic weightlifting gold medals. Measuring 4-ft and 10-inches, he earned the nickname — on the podium — ‘Pocket Hercules’. Born as Naim Suleimanov in Bulgaria, one of the two-million strong Turkish minority within Bulgarian borders, he was destined to be a living legend in the sport. Apart from three Olympic gold medals, he captured seven World championships and six European titles. He also created 46 world records.

Suleymanoglu set his first world record at the age of 16. He then missed the Olympics because of the boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

His life is a saga of challenges which included a defection from Bulgaria to Turkey in 1986. He even changed his name to the Turkish Suleymanoglu.

The Turkish authorities paid one million dollars to Bulgaria to let him represent Turkey in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. And, he did not let his nation down as he won the featherweight gold medal.

Then there was the stunning announcement from this ‘Pocket Hercules’ of retiring at the age of 22 — that too after winning the 1989 World championship. However, he returned to competition in 1992 in Barcelona. He completed an incredible hat-trick of Olympic golds when he clinched the honours in the 1996 Atlanta edition too. There was a desperate attempt to go on a high when he returned to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But it was apparent that his skills and power were waning as he failed to lift 145 kg and was sadly eliminated from the competition. Not the finish he was hoping to script for his illustrious career.

Suleymanoglu was awarded the 2001 Olympic Order and later inducted into the IWF Hall of Fame. In 2009, he suffered an epileptic convulsion, but recovered later.

V. V. Subrahmanyam