Turkey’s golden girls dare to dream for London Olympics

Turkey’s golden girls dare to dream for London Olympics

Turkey’s golden girls dare to dream for London Olympics

Gülcan Mıngır, Nevin Yanıt (pictured) and national women’s basketball team cap a memorable weekend for Turkey’s female athletes, boosting the nation’s hopes for a successful Olympic performance. AA photo

Turkey’s female athletes are preparing for the Olympic Games, and they are stronger than ever.

Runners Gülcan Mıngır and Nevin Yanıt won gold medals for Turkey in the European Championships in Helsinki on June 30, a day after the women’s national basketball team won a berth to play in the London Games for the first time in history.

The national basketball team’s qualification for the Olympics increased Turkey’s total number of female athletes to 59, while 46 male athletes will be at the Games. That makes this the first time Turkey will be represented by more women than men.

“I don’t want to disrespect anyone, but it looks like women’s teams are outclassing men’s teams in Turkey,” veteran center Nevriye Yılmaz of the national basketball team said, half-jokingly, to NTV Spor last month.

Turkey’s previous high-mark for sending women athletes to the Olympic Games came in 2004, with 21. At the Beijing Games in 2008, Turkey had 20 women athletes.

Before the Beijing Games, Turkey had had 713 male athletes in its Olympic history, in an overwhelming majority to 70 females. Sending 59 women athletes this year will be a highlight for Turkey.

“Gentlemen, admit it, sports are now a ‘woman’s game’ in Turkey,” Serkan Korkmaz, the chief of Beyaz TV’s sports department, wrote on his Twitter account on June 30.

Sports writer Banu Yelkovan wrote about women’s increasing importance in sports in an article she penned about Göksu Üçtaş, Turkey’s first Olympic gymnast.

“When I was watching Göksu’s performance [that won her the Olympic qualification] on YouTube, French commentators were saying ‘Turkey is a country from which we are not used to seeing even men gymnasts,’” she wrote for Radikal on June 15. “If only they knew how successful Turkish girls are in those branches in which boys are not doing that well.”

A big weekend for Turkey’s women in sports started on June 29, when the Turkish national women’s basketball team beat Argentina 72-58 to qualify for the Olympic Games.

Coach Ceyhun Yıldızoğlu said Turkey will not settle for just showing up at the Olympics. “We will play in the Olympics for the first time in our history,” Yıldızoğlu said after the game. “Now we’re aiming for higher spots. We will try to get the best possible result there.”

On June 30, Turkey got three golds in the European Athletics Championships, with two of them going to women, in a good sign for the country’s Olympic hopes. Nevin Yanıt successfully defended her 100-meter hurdles title and Gülcan Mıngır won the women’s 3000-meter steeplechase, while Polat Kemboi Arıkan won the men’s 10,000-meter race.

“In the past, men were dominant in Turkey’s sports scene, but now women are beginning to believe in themselves,” Yanıt said after the race. “I remember I watched Süreyya Ayhan [win the 1500-meter at the 2002 European Championships] and thought, ‘If she can, then I can win too,’ and that was how I started. And my success in 2010 proved an example for others. And there are other achievements in women’s volleyball and basketball. They are all connected.”