Naim Suleymanoglu was in town yesterday to pump iron with Nancy Reagan at the White House, wander the halls of Congress and to say a few words -- in Turkish -- about the plight of Bulgarian citizens of Turkish descent.
One might ask, without fear of sounding too ignorant, "Who is Naim Suleymanoglu?"
Perhaps it is easier to recognize him by his more famous (and more pronounceable) nickname: "Pocket Hercules."
A U.S. journalist made up the name, Suleymanoglu believes, and he likes it.
"That's how people know me," he said through an interpreter at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. "They don't know my real name."
Many who don't know him probably remember what he did. Only 4 feet 11 and 131 pounds, "Pocket" lifted three times his weight and twice set three world records as he won the gold medal in weightlifting's featherweight division at the Seoul Olympics.
His victory gave Turkey its first Olympic gold medal in 20 years and sent Turks everywhere into ecstacy. First, simply an athletic hero, he quickly became a symbol to more than 900,000 Bulgarians of Turkish origin, people such as himself who remain subject to discriminatory practices by the Bulgarian government, he said.
Suleymanoglu defected to Turkey two years ago while competing for Bulgaria in Australia. In order for him to compete in the Olympics, the Turkish government had to pay the Bulgarians $1 million to waive a rule that prevents a defector from participating in an Olympics for three years. Turkey did so gladly, then rejoiced when "Pocket" won, becoming the world's strongest short person.
There have been offers of cars, villas and apartments. He received the equivalent of $35,000 in gold coins from a Turkish bank, one coin for every kilo he lifted to win the gold. Most importantly, his fame won the freedom of his parents, two brothers, their wives and one child, who were allowed to leave Bulgaria two months ago after Suleymanoglu "demanded" they be given passage to Turkey. They are living with him in his three-bedroom apartment in Ankara.
So these are happier times for "Pocket" and his family. He is on a tour of the United States after winding his way through West Germany and London. At the White House, he and the First Lady lifted hand weights for photographers.
"She is strong," he said.
He had several parties to attend here before heading to Philadelphia and New York, then to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs before visits with the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears. He will be at Disney World for two days before going home Dec. 20.
He plans to stay in shape and perhaps compete in Barcelona in 1992.
"Maybe," he said in English, which he has studied for two weeks in Turkey.
But will he have a sport in which to participate? Suleymanoglu opposes a proposal being discussed by the International Olympic Committee this week that calls for weightlifting to be suspended from the Olympics because of recent steroid use in the sport.
Five weightlifters -- two Bulgarians, two Hungarians and one Spaniard -- were among 10 competitors who tested positive for drug use at the Seoul Games.
"It's very wrong to penalize an entire sport just because of a few athletes," Suleymanoglu said. "There is a steroid problem in all sports, including weightlifting. Yes, it's very wrong. But weightlifting isn't the only sport to have the problem."
IOC Vice President Richard Pound of Canada is expected to propose at the IOC meetings in Vienna today that Olympic weightlifting be suspended until the sport cleans up its act.
"All the media attention seems to be on the weightlifters," Suleymanoglu said, "but there was steroid use in a lot of other sports, including track with Ben Johnson. There should be more penalties. Definitely. The athlete should be punished, but so should the trainer and country. They are the people who control the athlete."