Turkey

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‘Pocket Hercules,’ Olympic weightlifting legend, dies at 50

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Naim Suleymanoglu, Turkey’s triple Olympic champion weightlifter nicknamed “Pocket Hercules,” died at age 50 on Saturday.

Suleymanoglu was hospitalized with liver failure on Sept. 28 in Istanbul. He underwent a liver transplant Oct. 6, then remained in intensive care due to a brain hemorrhage and further Nov. 11 surgery, according to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency.

The 5-foot, 136-pound Suleymanoglu became the first weightlifter to win three Olympic titles, doing so in 1988, 1992 and 1996.

He could clean and jerk three times his body weight, helping gain his famous nickname.

Suleymanoglu was born Naim Suleimanov in a Bulgarian mountain village. He wanted to start weightlifting at age 9, when he was 3-foot-9 and 55 pounds.

He was a world medalist by age 16 and a world champion by 18 but missed the 1984 Olympics in between due to Bulgaria joining the Soviet-led boycott.

He defected from Bulgaria in 1986 after charges of human rights violations, even murders, by Bulgarian authorities against the country’s ethnic Turks. Bulgaria was attempting to change Turkish names to Slavic ones in an assimilation process.

All this happened during Suleymanoglu’s eight-year winning streak in major competition, starting as a Bulgarian competitor and finishing representing Turkey.

He decided to defect after seeing that his name would be changed. Suleymanoglu kept his plan a secret for a year before leaving the Bulgarian team at a competition in Australia in December 1986. He then changed his name to Naim Suleymanoglu, which means Naim, son of Suleyman, in Turkish.

Five months before the 1988 Olympics, Turkey’s weightlifting president took $1 million in a suitcase to a Bulgarian hotel in order to obtain the unconditional release of Suleymanoglu to compete for Turkey at the Seoul Games.

Under rules at the time, an athlete had to sit out one year before competing for a new country at the Olympics. Plus, Bulgaria had to agree to Suleymanoglu’s change of athletic citizenship. If not, Suleymanoglu would have had to wait three years before competing for Turkey.

Turkish journalists said that three men counted the money three times, a 6 1/2-hour undertaking.

Suleymanoglu was cleared to compete for Turkey and dominated the Olympic featherweight division in 1988 (broke six world records) and 1992 (won by 33 pounds).

Suleymanoglu’s featherweight duel with Greek Valerios Leonidis at the 1996 Atlanta Games was called “the greatest weightlifting competition in history” by the public address announcer.

They traded world records in the clean and jerk finale. Leonidis finally failed at 419 pounds in an attempt to dethrone Suleymanoglu. Pocket Hercules retired with a world record total weight lifted for the division (738 pounds between the snatch and clean and jerk).

Suleymanoglu then ran for Turkish parliament but only received 1,000 votes.

Suleymanoglu came out of retirement ahead of the 2000 Sydney Games. At 33, he hoped to join Carl LewisAl Oerter and Paul Elvstrom as the only athletes to win four golds in an individual event.

He failed at all three attempts in the snatch, eliminating him from the competition.

The Turkish government reportedly rewarded Suleymanoglu with a new house every time he won a world title (seven world titles, plus the three Olympic golds). He also owned two gas stations.

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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Wayde van Niekerk upset in 200m, feels ‘disrespected’ by rival

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Wayde van Niekerk was in tears.

Not for missing gold in the 200m by two hundredths of a second. But for what he perceived as people feeling he didn’t deserve his 400m title two days earlier, specifically his top rival, Isaac Makwala.

Van Niekerk, the South African seen as the heir apparent to Usain Bolt as track’s superstar, was upset by Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev in the world 200m final in London on Thursday. Guliyev overtook Van Niekerk on the straightaway and won in 20.09 seconds.

Van Niekerk got silver in a photo finish over Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago, who clocked the same time.

Van Niekerk came thisclose to joining Michael Johnson as the only athletes to win the 200m and 400m at a single worlds. When Van Niekerk learned he took silver in the 200m behind the unknown Guliyev, he smiled, clapped and screamed in apparent joy.

But once Van Niekerk reached the media, he was closer to inconsolable. He broke down before a BBC interview, confusing any informed viewer.

“After 400m, there was quite a lot of people that felt I didn’t deserve it,” he said. “I work just as hard as every other competitor I compete against. I show everyone else respect. I think I didn’t get the respect I deserve after the 400m.”

Of anybody in any event, Van Niekerk might be the most respected athlete when it comes to the 400m.

He put on one of the greatest performances in Olympic history to win the Rio 400m out of lane 8 in 43.03 seconds, breaking Johnson’s hallowed world record. That came one year after Van Niekerk won his first world title and had to be taken off on a stretcher.

Van Niekerk then easily repeated as world champion in the 400m on Tuesday in 43.98 seconds. But many lamented that his biggest rival this season — Makwala of Botswana was held out of the 400m final due to his medical controversy. Makwala was sixth in the 200m final, likely gassed from having raced twice Wednesday after the IAAF re-entered him.

“There’s something fishy they [the IAAF] don’t want to tell us,” Makwala told the BBC on Wednesday regarding his 400m exclusion. “Usain Bolt is out now. They want someone to be a face of IAAF.”

The IAAF said it was following recommendations from Public Health England regarding Makwala, who claimed he was not sick.

“My emotion came when Wayde van Niekerk crossed the line with 43.98 I looked at that time,” said Makwala, who ran 43.84 in a July 21 race in Monaco, where he lost to Van Niekerk. “That time was just normal time that I can do. I was in shape for more than that time. … So after I saw him crossing the line, it was like, this was my time. This was my time to take a gold medal here.”

The post-200m interview with Van Niekerk continued. The South African did not mention Makwala, leading to more confusion:

Phil Jones (BBC): It seems strange that anybody could even remotely question you when, as Olympic champion and world-record holder, they wouldn’t view you as a worthy winner. Where are you getting that sense from?

Van Niekerk: It was no secret that my finals, a lot of people felt that the results would have been other way, but I’ve proven everyone wrong today. Like I said, I’m going to prove it over and over again that I deserve where I am and I deserve what I’ve achieved.

Jones: This talk the other day of the conspiracy, the IAAF conspiracy. Did you hear that, and what were you thinking when you did?

Van Niekerk: Yeah, like I said, I feel it’s very unfair, especially, like you said, it’s not an overnight success that I achieved. I’ve been coming through the rankings the last few years as any competitor, so I really feel I’ve worked for where I am today. But it’s fine, I guess everyone’s going to be angry and people’s going to be upset the way things work out, but this is a competition. We’re all challengers. We all came out here for one thing, and that’s medals.

Later, Van Niekerk confirmed his comments were regarding Makwala.

“To be honest with you, it really did upset me a bit,” he said in a press conference. “Especially, the amount of respect I have shown each and every competitor I compete against, including Makwala. I’ve always shown him massive respect, and for him to come out and, I think, mention my name among something fishy happening in the IAAF, pointing me out as a favorite.

“I wouldn’t say [it] affected me. I just expected more from someone that I’ve been competing with for the last few years now. … For him to come out with that statement, I think it was a bit disappointing.”

Track and field is changing, especially in the sprints.

Jamaica finished worlds with one medal in the men’s and women’s 100m, 200m and 400m combined (Bolt’s 100m bronze). No Jamaicans or Americans made the men’s 200m podium.

Van Niekerk’s brilliance is the biggest draw amid this landscape. He was seen as the favorite to sweep the 400m and 200m this week, boosted by the absences of Bolt (200m), Andre De Grasse (200m) and the last two Olympic champions in the 400m.

But the 200m-400m double is daunting, as Allyson Felix can attest. Van Niekerk, who raced six times in six days, was third in his 200m semifinal Wednesday and got into the eight-man 200m final as the last qualifier.

Johnson, now a BBC analyst, noted Van Niekerk’s repeated insistence that he dislikes the 400m.

“If you hate to run the 400m, then you probably hate to train for the 400m,” Johnson said. “When you’ve got to train for the 400m and the 200m and running a bunch of rounds, then take 400m training, and it’s just exponentially harder.”

Van Niekerk later said he planned to race the 100m and 200m at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

In other events Thursday, Christian Taylor won his third world title in the triple jump, edging countryman Will Claye by five centimeters. Taylor, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic champion, was aiming for Jonathan Edwards‘ world record of 18.29 meters but mustered a best jump of 17.68 meters.

“I’m a bit disappointed, to be completely honest,” Taylor told media in London. “I want to be the best ever. Unfortunately, every time you hear the triple jump is announced, whether the championship record, world record, it’s going to be Jonathan.”

Kori Carter won the 400m hurdles out of lane 9, coming back to beat Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad in 53.07 seconds. Muhammad got silver in 53.50, followed by Jamaican Rihanna Tracey in 53.74.

Carter, 25, fell in the 2015 Worlds semifinals and finished fourth with a finish-line dive at the 2016 Olympic Trials, missing Rio by one spot.

She plans to focus on the 100m hurdles next year.

Matthew Centrowitz, the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, finished last in his first-round heat in a listless effort. Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, eyeing his fourth straight world title, headlines the field for Friday’s semifinals.

World champion Dafne Schippers and Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo won their 200m semifinals to make Friday’s final. Elaine Thompson and Tori Bowie, the Olympic and world 100m champions, chose not to enter the 200m.

Caster Semenya easily won her 800m heat to make Friday’s semifinals, three days after taking bronze in the 1500m. Semenya, who has not lost an 800m in nearly two years, is joined by new American record holder Ajee’ Wilson and Olympic silver and bronze medalists Francine Niyonsaba and Margaret Wambui.

Olympic and world 10,000m champion Almaz Ayana headlined the qualifiers into Sunday’s 5000m final. She’s joined by all three Americans — Molly HuddleShannon Rowbury and Shelby Houlihan.

Medal favorites Maria Lasitskene of Russia and American Vashti Cunningham were among the 12 qualifiers into Saturday’s high jump final.

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*Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated no Americans or Jamaicans made the men’s 200m final. None made the podium.

Turkey prepares for 2026 Winter Olympic bid

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the country is considering a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics in the eastern provinces of Erzurum, Erzincan and Kars.

Erdogan made the announcement Wednesday during a campaign rally in Erzurum ahead of a referendum on strengthening the powers of the president.

Erdogan says “the Winter Games would suit Erzurum … We are making preparations for such a bid for 2026.”

Although Turkey has made several attempts to host the Summer Olympics, it would be the country’s first bid for the Winter Games.

Erzurum previously hosted the World University Games in 2011.

In 2013, Istanbul lost to Tokyo in the vote for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

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