It was all so static, this sport, so much more precise than the others. There was the man. There was the iron. There was the medal for the man who raised the most iron over his head. No wind nor rain could affect it, no crowd nor stadium, no referee's blunder nor shift of momentum nor....
He pushed out his bottom lip that day four years ago in Seoul and blew the hair off his forehead as a teenage girl might while she is leaning over an algebra problem. Slowly he walked toward a bar loaded to 418¾ pounds. He weighed 132 pounds and stood 4'11".
He didn't pace or take deep breaths or grit his teeth as other lifters did. He had no need to. At 15 he had become a world-record holder—unheard of in his sport for one so young. At 16 he had become the second man in history to lift three times his body weight, and he was the overwhelming favorite to sweep the gold medals in the 123½-pound division at the '84 Olympics until Bulgaria announced its boycott. Since then, he had set the world record and reset it dozens of times. "His first lift," his former coach would say, "he wins the competition. His second lift, he breaks the world record. His third lift...he does not need his third lift."
And yet on this day in 1988 life in Turkey, the country to which he had defected two years earlier, stopped. No desks were manned. No streets had people. No planes left their gates. A nation leaned toward its televisions and fell silent, to observe the matter of fact.
His eyes closed as he squatted over the bar. His feet rocked, heel-to-toe, heel-to-toe. His mouth opened as if to scream No! at what his body was about to do, but no sound came forth. The first explosion of power in his hips and thighs sent the weight up to his shoulders. The second explosion drove it over his head.
His arms trembled. His elbows locked. The judges nodded yes. In the cities of Turkey, men flooded the streets and cried. In the villages they began choosing the lambs they would slay in his name.
The matter of fact was finished. Now began the trial that would make Naim Suleymanoglu pace and grit his teeth for the next four years: How could history's greatest weightlifter lay the weight down?
Sometimes, Suleymanoglu says, he imagined the bar as a lover from whom he had long been separated. By hoisting it over his head, all the distance and time between him and her would disappear. Finally, he would have love. It was more than metaphor for him.
He had left his family at 10 and gone away to a sports school to develop his enormous talent. His defection to Turkey, at 19, had meant losing his family once more, and his girlfriend as well.
And so, after that final lift in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, he did something that had a significance few understood. He kissed the bar. He had just finished setting and resetting Olympic records nine times and world records six times in one day. His total for the two events—the snatch and the clean and jerk—was 66¼ pounds more than the weight achieved by the silver medalist, Stefan Topurov of Bulgaria, and 115½ pounds beyond the previous Olympic record.