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U.S. escapes Turkey at FIBA World Cup in closest win in 13 years

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The U.S. looks vulnerable on paper at the FIBA World Cup. Turkey proved it on the court on Tuesday, nearly handing the Americans their first loss at a major tournament since 2006 to end a 44-game win streak at the Olympics and worlds.

The U.S. eked out a 93-92 win in overtime in Shanghai, its closest at a major tournament since its last loss in the 2006 World semifinals to Greece.

“The team that we played tonight, again, shows its experience and the improvement that we have to make,” U.S. head coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’ve known for a long time how big basketball has become in China, of course, but all over the world.”

Turkey led 92-91 when it missed four straight free throws with nine seconds left in OT. A full box score is here.

Khris Middleton, one of two 2019 NBA All-Stars on a superstar-less U.S. roster, made two free throws with two seconds left before Milwaukee Bucks teammate Ersan Ilyasova missed a contested three-pointer as time expired that would have sent shockwaves across international basketball.

“The game was in our hands, not their hands,” said Furkan Korkmaz, a Philadelphia 76ers swingman and one of three NBA players on the Turkish roster.

Turkey is a decent opponent, the 2010 World silver medalist ranked No. 17, but tougher nations are believed to be coming in the knockout rounds.

“We didn’t play to our expectations,” Middleton said.

Much has been made about this U.S. roster lacking NBA superstars — it has one Olympian (Harrison Barnes) and two 2019 NBA All-Stars (Kemba Walker, Middleton). Many potential Tokyo Olympians opted out of suiting up for Team USA this summer — even with highly respected Gregg Popovich making his U.S. head coaching debut — a common occurrence in World Cup years.

Ten days ago, a 78-game win streak when including exhibitions with NBA players was snapped in a pre-World Cup loss to Australia.

The U.S. didn’t trail against Turkey until the final minute of regulation. With 12 seconds left, Jayson Tatum was fouled while attempting a go-ahead three-pointer. Tatum made two of three free throws to force OT.

The U.S., which beat the Czech Republic 88-67 in its opener on Sunday, finishes group play against Japan, lowest-ranked of the four-team group, on Thursday.

Also Tuesday, Canada was eliminated after losses to Australia (108-92) and Lithuania (92-69). That means the Canadians, seeking their first Olympic men’s basketball berth since 2000, will likely vie for one of the final four Olympic spots at a last-chance qualifying tournament next year.

Canada might have the most NBA options of any nation outside the U.S., but Andrew Wiggins, RJ Barrett, Jamal Murray and Tristan Thompson were all absent from the World Cup roster.

The top two nations at the World Cup from North and South America qualify for the Olympics.

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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‘Pocket Hercules,’ Olympic weightlifting legend, exhumed

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Naim Suleymanoglu, Turkey’s triple Olympic champion weightlifter nicknamed “Pocket Hercules,” was reportedly exhumed for a paternity test, seven months after his death at age 50.

The paternity case was filed by Sekai Mori, claiming to be the 27-year-old daughter of Suleymanoglu and a Japanese journalist he met at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, according to Turkey’s Hürriyet Daily News.

Suleymanoglu was exhumed Wednesday to the opposition of two of Suleymanoglu’s daughters, according to the report.

“Exhumation is a routine in paternity cases if the father is dead,” Mori’s attorney said, according to the report, adding that the lifter’s DNA samples from a hospital were “insufficient for a paternity test.”

Suleymanoglu died Nov. 18, a month after undergoing a liver transplant and remaining in intensive care due to a brain hemorrhage and further surgery, according to Turkish media.

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.

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

Suleymanoglu dominated the Olympic featherweight division in 1988 (broke six world records) and 1992 (won by 33 pounds).

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).

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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Seven countries interested in hosting 2026 Winter Olympics

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Seven countries among three continents submitted interest in bidding for the 2026 Winter Olympics before the International Olympic Committee’s deadline.

The current dialogue phase runs to October, when the IOC will choose which cities to invite to its candidate phase running up to a September 2019 IOC members vote for the host.

Bids could hinge on public votes, which led to the demise of recent Summer and Winter Games bids.

The seven potential bids:

Austria (Graz)
Austria ranks fourth in Winter Olympic medals behind Norway, the U.S. and Germany and hosted in Innsbruck in 1964 and 1976. Graz is the nation’s second-largest city after Vienna. It shares a province with Schladming, host of the 1982 and 2013 World Alpine Skiing Championships. A potential venue plan would include figure skating, short track speed skating, hockey and curling in Graz, Alpine skiing in Schladming, more hockey games in Vienna, Linz or Klagenfurt and speed skating and sliding sports in Germany, up to 200 miles from Graz. A planned Innsbruck bid for the 2026 Winter Games was dropped in October after defeat in a public vote. Austria lost in Olympic bidding for 2002 (Graz), 2006 (Klagenfurt), 2010 (Salzburg) and 2014 (Salzburg).

Canada (Calgary)
Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Games that included the first Jamaican bobsled team and the Battle of the Brians and the Battle of the Carmens in figure skating. If this bid happens, it could see Nordic combined and ski jumping at the Vancouver 2010 venue in Whistler, B.C., more than 500 miles west of Calgary. If Calgary gets the 2026 Winter Games, it could hurt a potential 2030 U.S. bid from Denver, Reno-Tahoe or Salt Lake City since the IOC has never awarded back-to-back Summer or Winter Games to North America (though a Summer Games in North America has been followed by a Winter Games in North America in 1976/1980 and 1984/1988.) Calgary’s mayor said in PyeongChang that a “real decision” on being “serious” about bidding must be made by the summer, according to Sportsnet. Toronto dropped a 2024 Summer Olympic bid. Quebec City showed 2026 bid interest last year before dropping out as well.

Italy (Cortina d’Ampezzo/Milan/Torino)
Italy’s initial declaration last week mentioned only Milan and Torino, but the Cortina mayor later wanted in, too. The three sites are separated by about 300 miles across northern Italy. Torino hosted the Winter Games in 2006, with one Winter Olympics in Europe since then (Sochi 2014, though Russia is transcontinental). Cortina was Italy’s other Winter Games host in 1956. The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) said it will present a feasibility study on its bid once the new Italian government forms for “a comprehensive evaluation of the entire project.” Italy’s general election on March 4 resulted in no clear majority.

Japan (Sapporo)
Sapporo, which has been talked about as a potential 2026 bid city for more than three years, hosted the first Winter Games in Asia in 1972 as well as the Asian Winter Games in 1986, 1990 and 2017. Sapporo is hoping for a third straight Winter Olympics in East Asia after PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022. Tokyo is also hosting the 2020 Summer Games. IOC president Thomas Bach has said he hopes the Winter Olympics can return to a more traditional location in 2026, which USOC chairman Larry Probst called “code for Europe or North America.” Sapporo’s sliding sports track from 1972 is gone. Bobsled, luge and skeleton could be held at the 1998 Olympic venue in Nagano, which is 600 miles south of Sapporo and on a different island.

Sweden (Stockholm)
The Swedish capital dropped a bid for the 2022 Olympics in 2015 due to lack of political and financial support. The bid was revived for 2026, declared dead by Swedish politicians last April, but kept alive by the Swedish Olympic Committee. As with the 2022 bid, Alpine events are slated for Åre, about 350 miles north. Sliding events could be in Latvia, 300 miles across the Baltic Sea. Sweden hosted one Olympics — the Summer Games in Stockholm in 1912 — plus equestrian events in Stockholm during the 1956 Melbourne Games. It also failed in bids for six straight Winter Olympics — 1984 (Göteborg), 1988 (Falun), 1992 (Falun), 1994 (Östersund), 1998 (Östersund) and 2002 (Östersund).

Switzerland (Sion)
The first city to officially declare 2026 candidacy nearly a year ago. Sion, with a population listed around 30,000, could be the smallest Olympic host city since Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994. The initial Sion framework included events in Bern, Lausanne and St. Moritz. Switzerland hosted the Olympics twice, both Winter Games in St. Moritz (1928 and 1948). Sion previously was a finalist to host the 1976, 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, finishing runner-up in voting every time. A possible bid from St. Moritz and Davos was rejected by voters in February 2017. A Sion bid could hinge on a public vote set for June 10.

Turkey (Erzurum)
Turkey has never bid for a Winter Olympics nor hosted a Summer or Winter Games. Istanbul bid for the Summer Olympics in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2020, coming as close as runner-up to Tokyo for 2020. If successful, Turkey could become the third nation to host a Winter Olympics with no prior Winter Olympic medals. The others were Yugoslavia in 1984 and France at the first Winter Games in 1924. Turkey’s best-ever Winter Olympic finish was 15th (out of 15 teams) in the 1998 men’s cross-country skiing relay, according to the OlyMADMen. Erzurum is an Eastern provincial capital with about 400,000 people.

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