Turkish weightlifting legend Naim Suleymanoglu

Baku, March 31, AZERTAC

Nicknamed "Pocket Hercules" for his 1.47 meters (4 feet 10 inches) frame, Naim Suleymanoglu went down in weightlifting history, bagging gold medals in three consecutive Olympic games: Seoul 1988, Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996.

Suleymanoglu became the first weightlifter to win gold medals at three different Olympics.

Born with Turkish roots in the southern Bulgarian province of Kardzhali in 1967, Suleymanoglu set a lifting record of 190 kilograms (419 pounds) in the clean and jerk in the 1988 Olympics.

"He dominated the sport for over a decade and by the time he finished his career, he had set an astonishing 46 world records," according to the Olympic website.

Although Suleymanoglu set his first world record when he was 16, he could not enter the 1984 Olympics since Bulgaria joined the Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games.

He was picked as the world's best weightlifter in 1984, 1985 and 1986, while he was competing for Bulgaria.

In 1986, he took shelter in the Turkish Embassy in Australia after the Weightlifting World Cup in Melbourne, seeking to escape pressures in Bulgaria.

The 1980s witnessed Bulgarian oppression against the country's Turkish minority, forcing them to adopt Slavic names and prohibiting their language, with Suleymanoglu defected to Turkey in protest.

The Communist regime in Bulgaria forced Turks to run away to the neighboring Turkey.

It was in this period that the Bulgarian government changed Suleymanoglu's name - without his consent - to Naum Shalamanov.

Suleymanoglu was airlifted to Turkey's capital Ankara from Australia by Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal in a secret operation.

Once the World Cup in Melbourne ended, Suleymanoglu risked his life but managed to escape from the Bulgarian camp with the help of the Turkish government.

He took a Turkish jet to fly to London first, and then to Ankara.

Turkish government paid Bulgaria $1 million to have Suleymanoglu compete for Turkey in the 1988 Olympics, as Bulgaria allowed him to represent Turkey in international competitions.

Suleymanoglu was featured on the cover of the world-renowned Time magazine on Jan. 3, 1988 issue over his successful performance in the Seoul Games.

Suleymanoglu's medal-galore career ended in 2000 as he claimed seven World and European Championships each as well as 46 world records.

In 2000 and 2004, he was elected to the International Weightlifting Federation Hall of Fame.

He was awarded the Olympic Order, the highest award of the Olympic movement, in 2001.

He died of liver failure at the age of 50 on Nov. 18, 2017.

The life of Suleymanoglu was filmed which was released on Nov. 22, 2019.

Turkish-Dutch actor Hayat Van Eck portrayed Suleymanoglu in a drama movie titled "Cep Herkülü (Pocket Hercules): Naim Süleymanoğlu"

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