Turkey hopeful in London gold hunt
LONDON - Agence France-PresseIt may have already broken records, but Turkey’s Olympic squad has a good chance to cap its achievements with medals in the London Games.
Turkey travels to the 2012 Olympics with a national record of 114 athletes, 66 of which are female. Also for the first time in its history, Turkey’s female athletes outnumber their male counterparts on the Olympic squad.
The Olympic squad must remember that pre-tournament records will be irrelevant after the medal hunt begins. Similar participation records were set before the Beijing Games, but were quickly forgotten after the country finished the Olympics with just one gold medal, four silver and three gold medals.
The last time the Olympics were held in London, Turkey had its most successful performance ever. With five gold medals, four silver medals and one bronze from wrestlers, in addition to triple jumper Ruhi Sarıalp’s bronze medal, Turkey set a standard that it has yet to match at any other Olympic Games. The Olympic squad hopes that their return to London this year will be equally prolific.
The 2012 Games mark the first time in 52 years that Turkey will be represented in team sports, with the country’s women’s volleyball and basketball teams winning Olympic qualification.
Track and field holds the largest group of participants in the squad with 33 athletes, while wrestling and weightlifting, two of Turkey’s perennial strongholds, follow with 13 and nine athletes respectively.
Turkey will be represented in volleyball, badminton, gymnastics, women’s 4x400-meter relay and women’s basketball for the first time in the nation’s history.
Track and field stars look for revival
Although they are always the centerpiece of the Olympics, Turkey has long struggled in the track and field events at the Olympic Games.
Prior to 2008, two bronze medals were all the nation got, thanks to triple jumper Ruhi Sarıalp in 1948 and hammer thrower Eşref Apak in 2004. Four years after Elvan Abeylegesse’s silver medal double in 5,000 and 10,000 meters, Turkey is hopeful that it can add to its modest medal total this year in London. Ethiopian-born Abeylegesse misses the event, but Nevin Yanıt (100-meter hurdles), Aslı Çakır Alptekin (1,500-meters), Burcu Ayhan (high jump), Gülcan Mıngır (3,000m steeplechase) and Karin Melis Mey (long jump) are all medal hopefuls.
And it is not only women: Kenyan-born trio Polat Kemboi Arıkan, Tarık Langat Akdağ and İlham Tanui Özbilen will all try to win medals in their long distance races as they represent Turkey. Finally, there is javelin thrower Fatih Avan, a 23-year-old national-record holder who will try to live up to his potential, which could make him a rare hero for Turkey in the sport.
Girls hoping to make noise at the games
Turkey will be represented in team sports for the first time in 52 years, with both the women’s volleyball and basketball teams winning Olympic berths. As the country’s clubs have done well in continental competitions in recent years, both achievements were hardly surprises.
Boasting the last two continental champion clubs and coming to the Olympics as the European third-place finisher, the national volleyball team has reason to be confident. However, it has to survive a group that has all three medalists (the U.S., China and Brazil) of the 2008 Olympics along with European champion Serbia. The national basketball team, which was the European championship runner-up, however, has a more comfortable group stage.
A medal finish would not be punching above their weight for either team, if they can make a good start in the games.