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September 8, 2000
The pocket Hercules is backPaul Majendie
Naim Suleymanoglu, hailed as the greatest weightlifter in the history of the sport, came out of retirement to bid in Sydney for an unprecedented fourth Olympic gold medal.
And, in what is clearly an emotional return for him, the Turkish star is bidding for glory in the land where he defected from Bulgaria 16 years ago.
Suleymanogolu, a potent symbol of the ethnic conflicts that ravaged Europe in the 20th century, was given a hero's welcome by Sydney's Turkish community when he flew in for the Millennium Games.
"I will keep my word to the Turkish people about winning," said the mighty midget, a 62-kg (136 lb) champion powerful enough to lift three times his own weight.
But at the venerable old age of 33, is the weighlifting star of Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta able to raise himself to Olympian heights once more?
"He has been competing and training for the last six months," said Turkey's weightlifting team manager Savas Azaoglu. "Most people believe that he will win the gold, the others think he is very old and it will be very hard."
Hollywood could not have written a better script than the life of Naim Suleymanoglu.
Growing up in a small Bulgarian mountain village, he was a teenage prodigy, almost breaking the adult world record at the age of 14.
He had to wait another year before breaking the first of a string of world records. At 16 he became only the second weightlifter in history to lift three times his own weight.
Despite his sporting prowess, he soon became disaffected with Sofia's attempts to assimilate ethnic Turks by closing mosques and banning Moslem holidays and burials.
For Suleymanoglu, being forced to change his name was the last straw. So, when competing at the World Championships in Melbourne, he defected to Turkey.
Ankara had to pay over an estimated $1 billion to Bulgaria and Suleymanoglu, who kissed the tarmac when flying into Turkey for the first time, won the country's first Olympic gold in 20 years at the Seoul Olympics.
His success revolutionised the sport in Turkey which has now become a world leader in weightlifting.
Suleymanoglu retired after Atlanta but the lure of a fourth gold in Sydney proved too great.
"I asked my friends, my trainers, everyone - can I do it again, can I win?" he said before departing for his date with destiny.
"Everyone said that if I tried, I could. So after that I believed in myself. I decided to try."
"It is history I am training for," he said. "I know all about Carl Lewis and Al Oerter. I think about them. I would like to do what they did."
When Suleymanoglu won his first gold in Seoul, one million people turned up at Ankara airport to welcome him home. If he does it again in Sydney, the city could face gridlock.
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