Everything you saw was outsized, almost goofy. The vaults were so much higher, the times so much faster, the jumps so much longer that it was hard to believe these athletes were the same species as the rest of us. These feats, except for beach volleyball and softball, of course, were more than Olympian, they were inhuman.
There was one sport, though, that seemed particularly outrageous, ridiculous beyond belief: weightlifting. It was possible to watch credulously as the heavyweights strained against the barbells and snapped the tonnage to their shoulders in herniating yelps. But when a 141-pound man muscles up the nerve to put 413 pounds over his head, you have to draw the line. This isn't a feat of strength, it's a parlor trick.
Turkey's 4'11" Naim Suleymanoglu, the so-called Pocket Hercules, performed this kind of magic in a dramatic duel with Greece's 5'4�" Valerios Leonidis. The competition, if you had never seen one before, was an eye-opener. The gamesmanship, for one thing, proved almost comical. Nobody's saying this is a thinking-man's game, but strategy is part of it. When Suleymanoglu, for example, committed to lifting one weight and then decided it did not measure up to his reputation, the fans went nuts. The announcer, who had been calm earlier—even when he had to call "Blood on the bar"—now sounded alarmed. "Stop the clock" he shouted. "Suleymanoglu wants more!"
A two-time gold medal winner, Suleymanoglu had only a 5�-pound lead after the snatch, the first part of the competition, and it was clear he could not shake Leonidis. In the second half, the clean and jerk, Suleymanoglu first lifted 396� pounds. Leonidis matched him. Suleymanoglu increased the weight to 407� and shattered the world record by 4� pounds. Then Leonidis lifted 413� pounds, challenging Suleymanoglu to meet it. Suleymanoglu approached the bar, daintily arranged his fingers around it, and then heaved it, in two motions, above his head.
There was pandemonium. He stood motionless under the weights and then tossed them to the platform, equaling Leonidis's record lift and—combined with his snatch—setting another one. Leonidis, who would need to lift 418� pounds in his final try to win, was broken by the sight. On his attempt he couldn't even get the bar above his chin.
It had all happened so fast, three world records in 10 minutes. These little guys had just peeled themselves out of the Olympic pack with their ridiculous feats, their tricks. To tell the truth, it was a relief when it was over and all that weight finally rested on the floor. Surely that's where it belonged.