Naim Suleymanoglu

Olympic Weightlifter

Naim Suleymanoglu, also known as “The Pocket Hercules”, is a record-breaking Turkish weightlifting champion.

At 1.47m tall, Naim has been aiming to become the best, ever since he started lifting weights at the age of 10; breaking his first World Record as a 15-year old teenager.

Having dominated the sport for over one decade, he broke a staggering 46 world records in his glittering career as an Olympic weightlifter.

However, Naim’s road towards success wasn’t always “sugar coated”. He had a difficult upbringing; being raised in an extremely poor environment, with his parents working all day as tobacco farmers just to put food on the table.

This is his story:


 

Athlete Statistics

Full Name: Naim Suleymanoglu
WeightHeightNationalityProfession
135 - 145lbs (61.2 - 65.8kg)4'10" (147cm)TurkishOlympic Weightlifter
 
AliasEra
The Pocket Hercules1980, 1990, 2000
Weight135 - 145lbs (61.2 - 65.8kg)
Height4'10" (147cm)
NationalityTurkish
ProfessionOlympic Weightlifter
AliasThe Pocket Hercules
Era1980, 1990, 2000


 

Accomplishments

Competitions

Olympic Games

  • 1988 Seoul -60 kg, Gold Medal
  • 1992 Barcelona -60 kg, Gold Medal
  • 1996 Atlanta -64 kg, Gold Medal

World Championships

  • 1989 Athens -60 kg, Gold Medal
  • 1991 Donaueschingen -60 kg, Gold Medal
  • 1993 Melbourne -64 kg, Gold Medal
  • 1994 Istanbul -64 kg, Gold Medal
  • 1995 Guangzhou -64 kg, Gold Medal

European Championships

  • 1994 Sokolov -64 kg, Gold Medal
  • 1995 Warsaw -64 kg, Gold Medal
  • 2000 Sofia -64 kg, Bronze Medal

Representing  Bulgaria, World Championships

  • 1985 Södertälje, -60 kg, Gold Medal
  • 1986 Sofia, -60 kg, Gold Medal
  • 1983 Moscow -56 kg, Silver Medal

Friendship Games

  • 1984 Varna -56 kg, Gold Medal

 


Personal Records

  • Snatch: 152.5 kg, at 60 kg body weight
  • Clean and jerk: 170.5 kg, at 54 kg body weight
  • Clean and jerk: 190.0 kg, at 60 kg
  • Total: 342.5 kg (152.5 + 190.0) 1988 Summer Olympics, at 60 kg
  • Sinclair Points: 504 – in theory, best lifter for size ever

 

Biography

Teenage Record-Breaker

Born in Bulgaria, but of Turkish origin, Naim Suleymanoglu started his weightlifting career as a teenager. At the age of 14, he participated in his first major contest, the World Junior Championships, held in Sao Paulo Brazil.

Just one year later, at 15, Naim set his first ever world record. At 1.47m tall, he quickly gained recognition for his accomplishments at an early age, earning the nickname “The Pocket Hercules”.

In 1984, Naim took part at the European Championships in weightlifting. He successfully lifted three times his own bodyweight in the overhead press, thus, becoming the second man to ever achieve such a feat, after Stefan Topurov from Bulgaria.

Having just started his career, Naim was already recognized as one of the best weightlifters “out there”. However, his best was yet to come.

32 World Records

Four years after his stunning feat at the 1984 European Championships, Naim became the first man to snatch two and a half times his own bodyweight. Furthermore, he had already set 32 world records by this point – at 22 years of age.

At the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Naim showed his dominance in the sport once again; lifting a weight which was enough to win the weight class higher than his own.

Arguments Over Representing Bulgaria and Turkey

Until 1986, Naim represented Bulgaria, his home country. However, he defected to Turkey in 1986, representing them at the World Cup finals. Bulgarians weren’t content with this decision; they demanded 1 million dollars if he was to compete internationally for Turkey.

Eventually, the Bulgarian government was paid the requested amount, and Naim began competing for Turkey from 1986 onwards.

Comeback in 1992

For the following several years, Naim ‘knew no defeat’; he was the winner of every contest he took part in, including the 1986 and 1989 World Championships, and the 1986 and 1988 European Championships.

In 1990, he retired for a brief period of time, before making a successful comeback in 1992, at the Olympics in Barcelona. Four years later, he won his third consecutive Olympic gold medal at the Atlanta Games.

The contest in Atlanta is remembered for the rivalry between Naim and Greece’s representative Valerios Leonidis. The audience was divided into Greek and Turkish crowds; each nation cheering for their representative to win the gold medal.

After Naim lifted 187.5 kilograms, Leonidis attempted to lift 190 kg – however, he failed, bursting into tears after taking the silver medal. After the event, one of the announcers said; “You have just witnessed the greatest weightlifting competition in history.”


 


Retirement and Politics

In 2000 at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Naim made another comeback, in an attempt to earn his fourth consecutive gold medal. However, he failed to place – as a result, he was eliminated from the Games.

After the contest was over, Naim officially retired from competitive weightlifting. He’s become involved in politics in Turkey ever since.


 

Training

Starting out Slowly

When Naim first started training, he used weights that were roughly 80% of his own body weight. He also used a special light bar, to help him with his form.

Over time, he gradually increased the intensity of his training; introducing more complex movements such as deadlifts, snatch, and squats.

Olympic Lifts

These are some of the compound exercises Naim regularly performed as a teenager;

Snatch Movements

  • Snatch from the blocks
  • Jerk from rack behind the neck with snatch grip
  • Snatch squat
  • Snatch

Clean and Jerk Movements

  • Power jerk from rack, first jerk behind the neck, others from shoulders
  • Jerk from rack, first rep from shoulders, and the other reps behind the neck
  • Clean and jerk
  • Front squat
  • Clean from the blocks
  • Clean

 

What we can learn from Naim Suleymanoglu

Looking at Naim’s example, we can see that difficult moments might sometimes build strong characters. He had a rough childhood; having poor parents who worked around the clock just to survive.

However, the rough patches he had to go through early on proved to be a “blessing in disguise”; allowing him to overcome obstacles with much more ease later on in his life.

One thing we can learn from Naim is; never see difficult moments in your life as something negative, for they may prove to be a gateway for a better and more fulfilling life – this was the case with Naim Suleymanoglu.

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Just like Muhammed Ali, Naim Suleymanoglu became the greatest in his sport. They both
proved a person can overcome great difficulties facing them and reach their goal, if they have
strong belief and determination. They both set such wonderful examples for others, young and old. I love them both. Naim Suleymanoglu is seriously ill at this time. I pray that God will allow
him to get back to good health and live many more happy, healthy years, yet.
We thank him for all the admirable and good acts he did in his life up till now; may he live to do
more good still, insallah (God willing)!

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