Turkish athletes aim for medals in Rio Olympics

Turkish athletes aim for medals in Rio Olympics

Turkish athletes aim for medals in Rio Olympics

AFP photo

Turkey, which is sending 103 athletes to the 2016 Rio Olympics starting on Aug. 5, is pinning its hopes of winning medals on 15 athletes in seven disciplines – while also entertaining dreams of returning with a rare team medal in women’s basketball.

The Turkish medal hopefuls at the Olympics, which will run until Aug. 21, will compete in wrestling, track and field, taekwondo, judo, boxing, weightlifting and swimming.

Taha Akgül, who won the gold medal in the 125-kilogram freestyle category at last year’s World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, was eliminated in the first round of the European Wrestling Championships earlier this year due to an injury. However, he has gone through an extensive recovery period and is up for challenge in the Olympics.

A performance to see will be that of Greco-Roman wrestler Rıza Kayaalp, the bronze medalist from the 2012 London Games. The wrestler, who is the defending world and European champion in his category, will do his best to add the Olympic gold to his resume.

Elif Jale Yeşilırmak, who became the first Turkish woman to compete in wrestling at the Olympics in London, is also among the medal hopefuls in the 58-kilogram category.

Weightlifting will be a discipline the Turkish team hopes to win medals in, with Daniyar İsmayilov leading the challenge in the 69-kilogram category. İsmayilov, who won the snatch gold and bronze in last year’s world championships, followed by three golds at the 2016 European Weightlifting Championships, will be heading to Rio as the favorite.

In taekwondo, all eyes will be on Beijing Olympics bronze medalist London Games gold winner Servet Tazegül, who followed his Olympic success with the 2015 world title in the 68-kilogram category and gold medal at the 2016 European Championships, his fifth continental gold in a row. With his promising performances, Tazegül will be on the tatami chasing his third Olympic medal.

Ukrainian-origin 18-year-old swimmer Viktoria Zeynep Güneş, who won four golds at the 2015 FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in Singapore – breaking the junior world records in 200-meter individual medley and 200-meter breaststroke in the process – is aiming to make history by becoming the first Turkish swimmer to win an Olympic medal. Even earning a place in one of the finals will be a milestone for Turkish swimming.

Turkish track and field athletes made their mark at the London Games, especially with a one-two finish in the women’s 1,500-meter final, only for the country to later be tainted by doping bans. With a renewed squad led by athletes who were born and raised elsewhere, Turkey won 12 medals at the European Athletics Championships last month, and aims for eight finals in Rio.  

At the Euros, Turkey won its first medals in three categories: Cuban-born Yasmani Copello Escobar won the gold in the men’s 400-meter hurdles, Azerbaijani-born Ramil Guliyev was the runner-up in the men’s 200-meter and homegrown Emel Dereli was the bronze medalist in the women’s shot put. All three aim to win a finals berth in Rio.

Two Kenyan-born athletes, European gold medal winner Polat Kemboi Arıkan and runner-up Ali Kaya, will represent Turkey in the men’s 10,000-meter event, while Jamaican origin Jak Ali Harvey, the European silver medalist, will take on the track and field’s biggest tarts in the men’s 100-meter race.

Another Kenyan-origin athlete, Yasemin Can, travels to Rio as the women’s 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter European champion and will be running for a podium finish.

Also, Turkey’s men’s 4x100 relay team will be in the Olympic Games for the first time in 64 years.