With the start of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, officially the Games of the XXX Olympiad, a record number of Turkish athletes in a record number of fields are all focused and ready to cast aside all doubt to prove that their attendance at the event is more than mere coincidence.
A total of 181 athletes — 66 women and 48 men — are representing Turkey in 16 events at this year’s Summer Olympics which will kick off on Friday. Additionally, there are 67 athletes on the Turkish team participating in the Paralympics.
Turkey has a star-studded athletics team that includes Nevin Yanıt, Gülcan Mıngır, Polat Kemboi Arıkan and others.
Turkish athletes are most known in the weightlifting and wrestling events, and this year should bring no disappointments. World-class weightlifters who will be competing this year include Erol Bilgin, Hurşit Atak, Mete Binay, Fatih Baydar and İbrahim Arat in the men’s category, with Nurdan Karagöz, Aylin Daşdelen, Bediha Tunadağı and Sibel Şimşek representing the women.
The wrestling list is even longer, including names like Ramazan Şahin, Serhat Balcı, Taha Akgül, Selçuk Çebi and Nazmi Kayaalp in the men’s category. Russian-born Elif Jale Yeşilırmak is Turkey’s representative for women’s wrestling this year.
Aside from Turkey’s strength in these events, its lesser-known branches like martial arts and marksmanship are brimming with excitement over the potential of their Turkish Olympians
— and the number of medals they could bring. The athletes have been hard at work in training camps, warm-up tournaments and international competitions.
Martial medal hopefuls
Turkey is sending two athletes to the Olympic Judo event: Gülşah Kocatürk, who will compete in the women’s 78+ kilograms, and Sezer Huysuz in the men’s 73+ kilograms. “Both of them are very competitive; they have proven themselves. They are athletes who have won medals in Europe and around the world,” says Turkish Judo Federation head Fatih Uysal. The two have prepared by attending several camps in various countries leading up to the Games.
Kocatürk is participating in the Olympics for the first time; however, she is no stranger to international success. The 26-year-old’s list of medals includes a bronze in the Mediterranean Games and the European Championships, plus a silver in the World Cup — all in 2009. The year before, she won gold in the European Juniors Championships.
She is more hopeful about London. “I feel ready for the Olympics both mentally and physically,” the young heavyweight explains, noting, “However, the draw and your physical condition that day are very important in the Olympics.”
The sole Turkish judoka in the 2008 Olympics, lightweight Huysuz took second in the 2005 and third in the 2009 Mediterranean Games. “Every athlete has dreamed of the Olympics over these four years,” the 34-year-old says, stating that he has many techniques that set him apart from his peers. “I am going to use these techniques on my opponents. However, it will be truly difficult there because all of the athletes know each other very well. They know very well which techniques they use at which times,” he adds.
Turkey is a rising star in taekwondo as well, sending three seasoned martial artists to London: Nur Tatar in the women’s category and Servet Tazegül and Bahri Tanrıkulu in the men’s. The 19-year-old Tatar has been placing in international events since 2007 and is thrilled to be heading to her first Olympic Games, while Tazegül took a bronze home from Beijing in 2008. He most recently won the World Championship in 2011 and the European Championship the year before and in 2008. Three-time world champion Tanrıkulu competed in Athens 2004, where he won silver.
Right on target
Turkey’s sole representative in archery in London 2012 is Begül Löklüoğlu, who most recently won gold at the second leg of the 2012 European Grand Prix Archery, a victory that boosted her spirits prior to London. The 23-year-old has had an impressive winning streak, as earlier this year she won bronze medals at both the World Archery Federation (WA) World Cup and the European Championships.
“I have reached my first goal. Now my goal is to represent my country in the best possible way at the Olympics and win a medal. There is no reason why I should not succeed in this,” Löklüoğlu asserted after her most recent success.
Another excited young athlete, who also happens to be the only Turk in her event, is Neslihan Yiğit, whose name will be immortalized as the first Turk to ever compete in the Olympic badminton event. Though only 18, Yiğit has placed in a string of international competitions that have brought her from Uganda to Austria to Peru, and everywhere in between.
“I train for a total of eight hours a day. I feel idle on days that I do not practice; I’m almost addicted to training. It’s hard to be the best and I know the difficulty of those who are at the top,” says the dedicated athlete, who has been playing badminton incessantly since she was 9. “Because I will be in London, I was unable to take the university exam. It was not easy for me to get here at this time,” she explains, recounting the trials of being a young athlete hungry for the gold.
Yiğit highlights exactly the kind of sacrifice and dedication that the 181 Turkish athletes have demonstrated to get where they are today: London is where they have a chance to prove themselves on the world’s biggest athletic stage. They may be competing against the best this planet has to offer, but they have also earned the right to stand next to those athletes as equals and compete alongside them for glory and gold.