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‘Pocket Hercules’ Becomes First Lifter to Win Third Gold Medal

July 23, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ For fans of the 4-foot-11 mass of muscle known as the ``Pocket Hercules,″ stature isn’t a function of height.

Turkey’s Naim Suleymanoglu made history Monday by becoming the first lifter ever to win a third Olympic gold medal. Though he lifts in the 141-pound division, he was a giant to the dozens of Turks and Turkish-Americans cheering him on.

``He is the biggest!″ declared Gazi Aydin, a Turkish-born jeweler who lives in Atlanta.

``We love him very much. We are so proud of him, man,″ said Tolga Ozbakan, a Turk now studying at Georgia Tech.

Ten lifters had tried previously for a third Olympic gold _ and failed. An 11th, super heavyweight Alexander Kurlovich of Belarus, will give it a go next week.

Suleymanoglu, an idol in Turkey since he won his first gold medal at the 1988 Olympics, broke his own world record by combining to lift 738 1/2 pounds in the snatch and clean-and-jerk.

In the clean-and-jerk, he tied the world record set a few moments earlier by silver medalist Valerios Leonidis of Greece when he lifted 413 1/2 pounds. He lifted 325 pounds in the snatch.

At the medal ceremony, Suleymanoglu shook hands with Leonidis and then kissed him on both cheeks. It was a significant gesture, because Greece and Turkey nearly went to war in January after Turkey laid claim to an uninhabited island in the eastern Aegean Sea that Athens says is Greek.

``We are very good friends,″ Suleymanoglu said.

Xiao Jiangang, 23, of China won the bronze with a total of 710 3/4 pounds. Yorgos Tzelilis of Greece had the same total, but Xiao won by virtue of lighter body weight.

Suleymanoglu, born into the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, defected to Turkey in 1986. He also has won seven world championships, two before his defection.

Suleymanoglu and Leonidis tied for first place in the world championships last year, but Suleymanoglu won by virtue of lighter body weight. This time, it was Leonidis who was lighter, by more than a pound.

So Suleymanoglu had to lift more weight than Leonidis to win his third gold medal. And to do that, he had to succeed on his final lift _ after Leonidis had moved into a tie for the lead.

Leonidis, who also broke the previous world record with his total of 733 pounds, could have won on the final lift of the competition by succeeding at 418 3/4 pounds. He didn’t come close, although he said later that he’s lifted that weight in practice.

Suleymanoglu set the previous record total of 727 1/2 pounds. Leonidis held the previous standard in the clean-and-jerk at 403 1/2 pounds.

Suleymanoglu missed once in the snatch, but still led the field after that part of the competition. Leonidis also missed once in the snatch.

``I knew before the competition that the one who made the more failures would lose,″ Suleymanoglu said. ``I made one failure, he made two.″

When asked if his accomplishment made him the greatest lifter ever, 29-year-old Suleymanoglu smiled and avoided answering.

``I’m the first one to do it three times,″ he said through an interpreter. ``Maybe the super heavyweight (Kurlovich) will do it.″

Then, Suleymanoglu told reporters: ``You make your own decision.″

Vernon Patao, 26, of Wailuku, Hawaii, finished 22nd, and Thanh Nguyen, 32, of Pacifica, Calif., was 32nd. Thirty-six lifters competed.

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