Iconic Turkish weightlifter Süleymanoğlu's body exhumed from grave in Japanese paternity case
Photo: Demirören News Agency
Bulgarian-born Süleymanoğlu, the diminutive “pocket Hercules,” died in November 2018, a month after undergoing a liver transplant surgery. The 50-year-old had been suffering with cirrhosis for a long time.
Süleymanoğlu’s daughters from his Turkish wife had opposed exhuming his body from the grave, but the court decided to move on with the procedure.
“Exhumation is a routine in paternity cases if the father is dead,” Mori’s attorney Hülya Aksakal told a journalist at Istanbul’s Edirnekapı Cemetary on July 4, adding that Süleymanoğlu’s DNA samples in the hospital were “insufficient for a paternity test.”
Attorney Hülya Aksakal (L) and her client Sekai Mori
Not married with four children
It was reported earlier in Turkish media that Süleymanoğlu wrote in his will that Sekai Mori also “has a right in his inheritance.”
According to reports, Süleymanoğlu met Kyoko Mori, a Japanese journalist, during the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
Mori, who was 10 years older than the Turkish Olympist, had settled in Turkey with Süleymanoğlu and gave birth to a girl in Ankara in 1991.
The couple later separated and Mori reportedly could not reach Süleymanoğlu when she visited Turkey a couple of years later with her daughter.
Many years later, 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 from three women, according to daily Habertürk columnist Muharrem Sarıkaya.
A sports legend
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 Atlanta in 1996. He was the only weightlifter to win gold medals at three different Olympic Games.
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.
International crisis and politics
Bulgaria fumed over his defection and Süleymanoğlu was initially suspended for a year. But he then stormed to victory at the 1988 Olympics.
The tiny Süleymanoğlu wowed spectators with his power and was one of 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, paying particular attention to the welfare of the Turkish minority in neighboring Bulgaria and stood as a candidate for parliament for the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).