Naim Süleymanoğlu, 3-Time Olympic Champion Weightlifter, Passes Away At Age 50

Turkish weightlifter and multi-time Olympic and World Champion Naim Süleymanoğlu has passed away after a lengthy battle with liver disease. Süleymanoğlu is considered by many to be the greatest weightlifter of all time. He was 50 years old.

Earlier this year, Süleymanoğlu was hospitalized with liver failure after several years of reports regarding his health. Though he received a liver transplant on October 6th, Süleymanoğlu passed away on November 18th at an Istanbul hospital.

Nicknamed “Pocket Hercules” as a reflection of his legendary strength and short stature, Süleymanoğlu — who stood 4’10” at his competition peak — was born in Bulgaria to Turkish parents. He began weightlifting at a young age and found international success as a teenager, winning two World Championships for Bulgaria before his 20th birthday.

He missed out on the 1984 Olympics due to the Bulgarian-joined Soviet boycott. Two years later, Süleymanoğlu defected to Turkey, and a legal battle ensued over who he would represent in competition. (In the end, Turkey paid $1,250,000 to the Bulgarian government to settle the dispute.)

Süleymanoğlu — who competed at 56kg, 60kg, and 64kg during his career — went on to win three straight Olympic gold medals for Turkey while setting multiple World Records. He also won five more World Championships and became the only lifter in history to clean & jerk 10 kilograms over triple his bodyweight; that legendary lift is embedded below.

In addition, his 504 Sinclair Total from the 1988 Olympics remains the highest in international competition history. His performance at the 1996 Olympics — in close competition with Greece’s Valerios Leonidis, his main career rival — is widely considered one of the finest weightlifting battles in history.

After retiring following the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Süleymanoğlu once again trained to compete at the 2000 Athens Games. His run at what would have been a record fourth straight Olympic Gold ended when he missed all three snatch attempts.

After his athletic career, Süleymanoğlu became active in Turkish politics.

Featured image via Samet Yılmaz on YouTube.

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BarBend's Co-Founder and Editorial Director, David is a veteran of the health & fitness industry, with nearly a decade of experience building and running editorial teams in the space. He also serves as a color commentator for both National and International weightlifting competitions, many through USA Weightlifting. David graduated from Harvard University and served for several years as Editorial Director/Chief Content Officer of Greatist.com. In addition to his work in the health & fitness industry, David has been a writer for Fortune and Fortune.com, as well as a contributor to Forbes.com, Slate, and numerous other outlets across the web and in print. He's especially passionate about the intersection of strength sports and quality, professional media coverage — overlapping interests shared by the BarBend editorial team and which drive their content strategy each and every day. David is a proud Kentucky native. In his free time, David is a voiceover actor and can be heard in animated films, independent shorts, music videos, commercials, and podcasts.