One can say that Naim Suleymanoglu was born with a dumbbell in his hands! Indeed, this weightlifter who has a small frame of 1.58 established his first weight-lifting record at the age of 15 by competing in the adults category.
Escape to Freedom
Suleymanoglu was an ethnic Turk, born In Bulgaria. The Communist regime in Bulgaria forced its Turkish minority to adopt Bulgarian names and Suleymanoglu was forced to take the nameNaum Shalamanov (Наум Шаламанов). While on a trip to the World Cup Final in Melbourne in 1986, Suleymanoglu escaped the Bulgarian camp with thehelp of his Turkish relatives living in Melbourne. From Melbourne, he escaped to Turkey and represented the country in the next Olympic Games in 1988.
Small in size, but big in strength
In 1988 Seoul Olympics, Naim Suleymanoglu needed only two tries to beat two world records: 152.5 kg in the snatch and 190 kg in the clean and jerk. He finished the competition on the highest step of the podium, lifting 30 kg more than the Bulgarian Stefan Topurov who was ranked second. His achievement was even a better result than the Olympic champion in the extended class: the sum of the combined weight was 2.5 kg heavier than that of Joachim Kunz, winner of “light weight”.
Suleymanoglu repeated his success at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, winning again another Olympic gold. In the final, he lifted 15 kg more than Nikolay Peshalov.
Atlanta 1996 was the 3rd Olympics Competition the “pocket sized Hercules” was attending. Again he lifted over his opponents by lifting 147.5 kg in the snatch and 335 kg in the final totals. He thus won his third gold medal in three editions of the Olympic Games.
His final Olympics was at the country where he gained his freedom. He attempted to earn a fourth gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney but failed to lift 145 kg, which would have been a World record, and was eliminated from the competition.
Suleymanoglu became the strongest man ever, pound-for-pound, by lifting 3.16 times of his body weight in 1988 Summer Olympics (190 kg in clean and jerk). He won three Olympic, seven world Championships and six European titles and set 46 world records.
He was awarded the Olympic Order in 2001. In 2000 and 2004 he was elected member of the International Weightlifting Federation Hall of Fame.
At only 16, Naim Suleymanoglu became the second lifter who could lift three times his own weight. This achievement was the start of one of the finest careers in weightlifting which is often seen as a simple sports based on strength. However Suleymanoglu’s perfect illustration of speed, technique, concentration and timing established a solid balance between mental and physical strength, so that at that precise moment his whole being focused on one goal: raising the bar.
Suleymanoglu’s three gold medals in three Olympics brough attention to and helped modernize the weight lighting sport which is as old as mankind.