Body of Turkey’s Olympic weightlifting champion exhumed in paternity suit

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A man holding a Turkish fag mourns on the portrait of Turkey's legendary triple Olympic gold-medal winning weightlifter Naim Suleymanoglu in Istanbul on November 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE

The body of world and Olympic champion Turkish weightlifter Naim Süleymanoğlu was exhumed Wednesday in Istanbul due to a paternity suit filed by Japanese citizen Sekai Mori, who claims to be his daughter, the Hürriyet Daily News reported.

Bulgarian-born Süleymanoğlu, known as the “Pocket Hercules,” died in November 2017, a month after undergoing liver transplant surgery. The 50-year-old had long been suffering from cirrhosis of the liver.

Süleymanoğlu’s daughters from a Turkish woman had opposed exhuming his body, but the court ruled to proceed.

“Exhumation is a routine in paternity cases if the father is dead,” Sekai Mori’s attorney, Hülya Aksakal. told journalists at Istanbul’s Edirnekapı Cemetery on Wednesday, adding that Süleymanoğlu’s DNA samples in the hospital were “insufficient for a paternity test.”

The Turkish media had earlier reported that Süleymanoğlu wrote in his will that Mori also “has a right to the inheritance” he would leave.

According to reports, Süleymanoğlu met Kyoko Mori, a Japanese journalist, during the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

Kyoko Mori, who was 10 years older than the Turkish Olympian, had settled in Turkey with Süleymanoğlu and gave birth to a baby girl in Ankara in 1991.

The couple later separated, and Mori reportedly was unable to make contact with Süleymanoğlu when she visited Turkey a couple of years later with her daughter.

After Süleymanoğlu’s death, Sekai Mori was found in Japan through the efforts of the Turkish sports legend’s brother, Muharrem Süleymanoğlu.

The Turkish weightlifter never married but had four children with three women, according to Habertürk daily columnist Muharrem Sarıkaya.

Süleymanoğlu, who was only 1.47 meters tall, scored a historic hat-trick of consecutive Olympic titles starting in Seoul in 1988, then Barcelona in 1992 and finally Atlanta in 1996. He was the only weightlifter to win gold medals at three different Olympics.

His exploits in Seoul in 1988 made him one of the stars of the games, and Time magazine put him on the cover of its Games issue with one arm aloft in triumph under the headline “Everybody Wins.”

The path to stardom for Süleymanoğlu, who was born Naim Suleimanov as a member of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, had not been smooth.

He initially competed for Bulgaria but defected from the then-communist Bulgaria in December 1986 during the Weightlifting World Cup in Melbourne.

In an episode that caused a sensation at the time, Süleymanoğlu left for London aboard the Turkish prime minister’s jet, which then took him to Turkey, where he was given a hero’s welcome.

Bulgaria fumed over his defection, and Süleymanoğlu was initially suspended for a year. But he then fought his way to victory in the 1988 Olympics.

The diminutive Süleymanoğlu wowed spectators with his power and was one of the few weightlifters who managed to clean and jerk three times his own bodyweight.

After picking up a third Olympic title in Atlanta, he tried to make a comeback at the 2000 Sydney Games but suffered a rare failure. He failed to lift 145 kilograms in three attempts and left Australia empty-handed.

He subsequently dabbled in politics, with a focus the welfare of the Turkish minority in neighboring Bulgaria, and stood as a candidate for parliament for the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

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