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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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Russia, Iran among nations to lose Olympic weightlifting spots for doping

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Russia and Iran are among several nations who will lose places in the next Olympic weightlifting competition because of years of doping.

The International Weightlifting Federation published new rules which limit countries to one male and one female entry at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if they have had more than 20 doping cases in the sport since July 2008.

That applies to Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus, all major weightlifting powers. The IWF could still decide to ban them entirely if more cases emerge, IWF spokeswoman Lilla Rozgonyi said.

India and Iran fall into a second category of nations with between 10 and 20 confirmed doping cases in that period. Those countries can enter a maximum of two men and two women.

Other countries can enter up to four men and four women for the 2020 Games.

Weightlifting’s Olympic place came under threat after retesting of samples from the 2008 and 2012 Games revealed 49 doping cases. In one event from 2012, six of the top seven finishers were disqualified.

After those cases emerged, the International Olympic Committee reduced the size of the weightlifting competition for the 2020 Olympics. The new rules are a way of ensuring the countries most to blame for weightlifting’s predicament pay the heaviest price.

The new code of rules was “approved by the IOC and follows the logic that the IOC quota reduction … was a ‘consequence’ of the retests from 2008 and 2012,” Rozgonyi said.

The new rules also force athletes to compete in at least six major events in the 18-month Olympic qualifying period. In the past, some lifters have barely competed ahead of the Olympics, leading to suspicions they were avoiding doping tests.

Russia was banned entirely from weightlifting at the 2016 Olympics after the IWF ruled its team’s persistent steroid use had tarnished the sport’s image. Nine countries, including Russia and China, were barred from last year’s world championships because of doping.

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Transgender weightlifter believes Olympic hopes dashed by injury

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New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard, a transgender weightlifter, believes she suffered a career-ending injury, rupturing a ligament in her left elbow on a snatch attempt (video here) at the Commonwealth Games on Monday, according to New Zealand media.

Hubbard, 40, could have been the first openly transgender athlete to compete at an Olympics in 2020 (though she did not mention the Olympics as a goal in at least two published December video interviews with New Zealand media).

“My arm’s busted,” Hubbard said Tuesday. “It looks like it’s probably going to be a career-ending injury, which is a real shame. I’m glad that I’ve gone out trying to achieve my best on the platform.”

Hubbard competed in elite weightlifting events as a man — Gavin Hubbard — until beginning a transition to a woman at age 35. In order to compete, she must meet strict criteria around testosterone levels.

In December, Hubbard earned a world championships silver medal in the 90kg+ super heavyweight division behind American Sarah Robles.

Robles’ coach criticized Hubbard’s participation, saying, “Nobody wanted her to win,” according to Reuters.

Hubbard returned to New Zealand and discussed her participation in multiple interviews, calling it “a complex question.”

“Obviously the policies that are being put forward by organizations like the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and the IWF [International Weightlifting Federation] are evolving, and perhaps they may change after I’ve competed,” Hubbard said in December. “But I would ask people to keep an open mind and perhaps look to the fact that I didn’t win as perhaps the evidence that any advantage I may hold is not as great as they might think. I may have started competing in the last 12 to 14 months, but I started training years and years and years before that. To be honest, I had to wait until the world changed before I could really compete again, and I’m grateful that it has. … The rules that enable me to compete first went into effect in 2003, were known as the Stockholm Consensus of the IOC. But, I think even 10 years ago, the world perhaps wasn’t ready for an athlete like myself, and perhaps it’s not really now. But I got the sense at least that people were willing to consider me.”

Another transgender athlete is bidding for the Tokyo Games — Brazilian indoor volleyball player Tifanny Abreu, according to The New York Times.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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