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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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Olympic champion to auction gold medal for Iran earthquake victims

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Iran weightlifter Kianoush Rostami will reportedly auction his Rio Olympic gold medal and give the money raised to victims of Sunday’s earthquake near Iran’s border with Iraq.

“My gold medal belongs to my people, and I just hand it back to them,” Rostami said, according to the Tehran Times. “I didn’t sleep in the previous nights due to a sorrowful event.”

An Instagram post on a Rostami account with 129,000 followers outlined how to bid.

Rostami, 26, broke the world record for total weight in taking 85kg (187 pounds) gold in Rio — eclipsing his own record by one kilogram with 396kg (or 873 pounds) for the snatch and clean and jerk combined.

Rostami was one of the three Iranian gold medalists in Rio. He also took 85kg silver at the 2012 London Games and won world titles in 2011 and 2014.

A devoutly religious man, Rostami practices the same routine before every lift: He stands over the bar, lifts his head, takes a prolonged deep breath and says, declaratively, in Arabic, “In the name of God.”

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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کیانوش رستمی مدال طلای المپیک خود را جهت کمک به زلزله زدگان غرب کشور به حراج می گذارد کیانوش رستمی قهرمان وزنه برداری المپیک و جهان جهت کمک به زلزله زدگان غرب کشور، مدال طلای بازیهای المپیک ریو 2016 خود را به حراج می گذارد. پهلوان کرمانشاهی کشورمان در متن پیام خود در این باره گفت: کرمانشانَگم، اي شار شيرين نفس کم ديرم، اَراي زار و شين همدياريم، ها ژِير آوار کم بتکن خاک، وَه‌ اي کُردَوار بار دیگر دل زمین لرزید تا دل میلیوها ایرانی در غم از دست دادن عزیزانشان بلرزد،دلیرمردان و شیر زنانی که همواره در دل تاریخ بعنوان پاره ای از تن ایران بزرگ در خط مقدم دفاع از کشورشان بودند و هستند و امروز این دریادلان اینگونه در ساحل مصیبت زده طوفان بلا،دست به آسمان ساییده اند و چشم انتظار یاری مردم عزیز خود هستند. اینجانب کیانوش رستمی فرزند کوچک این ملت بزرگ که هنوز در این چند روز خواب به چشمانم نیامده بر خود وظیفه دانستم قدمی هر چند کوچک برای هموطنان زلزله زده کشورم پرداخته و مدال طلای بازیهای المپیک 2016 ریو را که در واقع متعلق به همین مردم است به آنها باز گردانده و برای کمک به مردم زلزله زده غرب کشور به حراج بگذارم و عواید حاصل از آن را به زلزله زدگان غرب کشور اختصاص دهم. علاقه مندان که می خواهند در این امر خیر شرکت کنند می توانند پیشنهاد و درخواستهای خود را به شماره تلفن های زیر 26203390-26203418 و همراه 09192787890 و یا آدرس ایمیل olympic.iran@yahoo.com در میان بگذارند.

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3 more Olympic medals stripped in IOC doping retests

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Two wrestlers and a weightlifter have been stripped of Olympic medals for doping at the 2008 and 2012 Games.

The International Olympic Committee says Uzbek wrestler Artur Taymazov, who won a gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and Ukrainian wrestler Vasyl Fedoryshyn, who won silver, have been ordered to return their medals.

Taymazov has not been stripped of his 2004 and 2012 golds.

Russian weightlifter Svetlana Tzarukaeva won silver at the 2012 London Games and also was asked to give her medal back.

The IOC, which stores doping samples for 10 years, reanalyzed more than 1,000 samples from Beijing and London with improved techniques that can detect the use of steroids going back weeks and months, rather than days.

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