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OTHERS > Women athletes’ final kick salvages Olympic pride

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

Turkey leaves it late but returns from the Olympics with its head held high after Aslı Çakır Alptekin and Gamze Bulut go one-two in the women’s 1,500m race

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Çetin Cem Yılmaz Çetin Cem Yılmaz cetincem.yilmaz@hdn.com.tr

A historic one-two finish in the women’s 1,500m final helped Turkey finally finish the Olympic Games in London on a high note.

Aslı Çakır Alptekin, 26, finished the daunting middle-distance race in the Aug. 10 final to claim the country’s first-ever gold medal in an Olympic track and field event, while Gamze Bulut, 20, came second to complete a historic double.

“In the past the Africans did it but now we are making a [one-two finish],” Çakır Alptekin was quoted as saying in yesterday’s daily Radikal. “When they ask us how we do it, we simply call it ‘the Turkish power.’”

The Turkish medal haul went one color better than the two silvers Ethiopian-born Elvan Abeylegesse won in the women’s 5,000 and 10,000m in 2008. Turkey’s two other Olympic track and field medals were bronzes won by Eşref Apak in the men’s hammer in 2004 and Ruhi Sarıalp in the men’s triple jump in 1948, also in London.

The race was a highly tactical event, with Bulut dictating the tempo with her youthful energy and Çakır Alptekin staying up front with her power. Çakır Alptekin took the lead in the last lap of the race while Bulut managed to fight back from fourth place to second with just meters left in the race.
Çakır Alptekin clocked 4:10.23, while Bulut came in 4:10.40.

“We wanted two medals and we got them,” the champion said. “It’s like gaining two gold medals.”

Of Çakır Alptekin, Bulut said: “We are like sisters and we run every competition together.” Bulut’s embrace of Çakır Alptekin at the finish line – along with the words, “sister, we did it again” – will undoubtedly go down in Turkish sports folklore.

The one-two finish was a repeat of the duo’s European Championships performance in Helsinki earlier this summer.

Çakır Alptekin will be a shoo-in choice for Turkey’s athlete of the year awards at the end of the year, but few had expected her to stage a comeback and claim several medals in 2012. Starting with a bronze medal at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul, she went on to claim gold in Helsinki and then finished second at the Diamond League meet in Paris, weeks before London. She then capped an illustrious year with the Olympic gold.

Her story also marks two important comebacks. One of them was her switch from the 3,000m steeplechase to her preferred 1,500m.

“I began athletics in the 1,500m and when I came to junior level, the entry standard was so high that I tried steeplechase,” said Çakır Alptekin, who finished an unimpressive 44th in the 2008 Beijing Games in the discipline. “Then my husband and coach [İlhan Alptekin] said I am stronger in the 1,500m so we made a choice to change.”

Another comeback was the one she made after the two-year doping ban she was handed in 2004. Following the Aug. 10 finish, British media and athlete Lisa Dobriskey were quick to recall the ban.

“I’ll probably get into trouble for saying this, but I don’t believe I’m competing on a level playing field,” Dobriskey said after coming 10th in the race. “People will be caught eventually, I think. Fingers crossed anyway.”

Other British athletes Paula Radcliffe, Anthony Whiteman and Hatti Archer also took it to Twitter to react against Çakır Alptekin’s victory.

Çakır Alptekin responded to Dobriskey’s claims by saying that they “reflected her personality.”
“I took six tests in a month, before and after the race,” she told daily Hürriyet. “I don’t care what she says. These statements only reflect her personality.”

‘Sour grapes’

Bulut’s sudden rise in form also raised the eyebrows of Jason Andrews of Athletics Weekly, who said, “She has made the giant leap this year from a 4:18 runner to 4:03.42 on the eve of the Games and 4:01.18 in her London semifinal.”

“The British athlete failed to succeed in front of her people. Tens of thousands of Britons applauded us. She must have been jealous of that,” Bulut said.

The Turkish athletics world has decided that those claims are only sour grapes. Turkish pundit Mert Aydın called on Çakır Alptekin to “file a lawsuit against Dobriskey right after the results of the tests are announced.”

The Turkish double are clean until proven otherwise and the reaction toward them is reminiscent of sprint great Carl Lewis raising an eyebrow over Jamaican superstars’ performances, or U.S. swimming authorities doubting the stellar performances of China’s Ye Shiwen.

Finally, the two athletes helped Turkey finish an Olympic campaign, which started poorly for the country, on a high note. And judging by the euphoria they created, Çakır Alptekin and Bulut will no doubt be remembered as two of Turkey’s sporting heroes.

August/13/2012

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