Saturday, June 2, 2012

A sporting classic from the past

The telly in this blogger's household leads a cushy life. It is in a state of perpetual rest. It is only occasionally called to perform and then immediately sent back to the state of rest with an apology for disturbing the slumber. All that changed a week or so ago.

You see, ESPN has bagged the rights to telecast the London Olympics which begin in a couple of months. As a lead up to this event, ESPN has been airing some memorable documentaries of past Olympics. If ESPN marketed those videos they are airing, I will stand in line for 72 hours in Chicago in freezing winter to buy them ! There are some absolutely riveting stories there. This post is about one such memorable sporting event.

Atlanta 1996. The rather unglamorous sport of weightlifting. What happened that Monday will go down in sporting legend as one of the great days of sport. It was the 64 kg category - not the man mountain variety. Naim Süleymanoğlu from Turkey was already a legend. Nicknamed the Pocket Hercules for his short stature, he was, pound for pound, the greatest weightlifter of all time. He was an absolute hero in his country. He was already a double gold medalist - from Seoul and Barcelona, but was now coming out of retirement to compete in Atlanta. His main competitor was the world record holder Valerios Leonidis of Greece. Adding spice to the contest was the fact the Greece and Turkey share a relationship somewhat akin to India & Pakistan.

The atmosphere in the hall was electric. On the left were legions of red Turkish supporters. On the right were the blue Greeks. Flags were waving everywhere. The noise was deafening. The event has two types of lifts - snatch and clean & jerk. Each lifter has three lifts in each category and the sum total decides the gold medal. When the snatch was over Naim had a 2.5 kg lead over Valerios. The drama reached a crescendo in clean & jerk. Naim went for a world record at 185 kg with his second lift and succeeded. Valerios asked for 187.5 kg for his second lift and succeeded, beating the world record  Naim had just set. Remember these guys were 64kg in body weight  - they were lifting three times their body weight. For his final lift Naim went for 187.5 kg and succeeded, equaling the world record just set, but would win the gold medal  since he was carrying a lead from the snatch. For the final lift of the competition, Valerios asked for an unbelievable 190 kg (10 kgs more than he had ever lifted before). He lifted it to his shoulders but couldn't complete the lift. The Pocket Hercules had won his third gold medal.   The men embraced. The public-address in a rare departure from the cript, actually said, "Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes today's competition, and you have probably witnessed one of the greatest weightlifting contests in the history of the world."

Later on as they lined up for the medals ceremony, Leonidis sportingly patted Süleymanoğlu and said "Naim, you are the best". To which Naim was reported to have replied , "No Valerios, WE are the best"

You can catch a little of the drama here. Of such stuff are sporting legends made.