Mutlu, Halil

Mutlu, Halil
▪ 2001

      It seemed to many in 2000 that the only challenges left for Turkish weight-lifting champion Halil Mutlu to face were those created by the man himself. Though standing a diminutive 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) and weighing 56 kg (123 lb), the “Little Dynamo” had loomed large over the weight-lifting stage and in the Turkish imagination for nearly a decade. Having placed first in every major international competition in which he had participated since 1996, Mutlu accomplished what adoring fans and leery opponents alike fully expected him to do—he donned his cloak of invincibility and won gold medals at the 1999 world championships, the 2000 European championships, and the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Though Mutlu consistently emerged victorious, his matches continued to hold an air of suspense; he repeatedly broke his own world records in the process.

      He was born Huben Hubenov on July 14, 1973, to Turkish parents in Postnik, Bulg. He defected to Turkey in 1989 in the footsteps of fellow ethnic Turk and weight-lifting great Naim Suleymanoglu, who had left Bulgaria three years earlier to escape the government's “Bulgarization” of the Turkish minority. After the move he changed his name to Mutlu from Hubenov to reaffirm his Turkish heritage, and he became a member of the renowned weight-lifting team in Ankara. At the age of 18, Mutlu began competitive weight lifting, and he placed fifth in the 54-kg weight division at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. Two years later he swept both the European championships and the world championships, and he subsequently missed placing first in only one international competition (Chinese lifter Zhang Xianseng bested him at the 1995 world championships). At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga., he set an Olympic record when he won gold. In 1999 Mutlu, who had set more than 20 world records during his career, was named Turkey's Best Sportsman of the Year. He set three world records at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney: one in the snatch (138 kg), one in the clean and jerk (167.5 kg), and one for the total weight lifted (305 kg).

      Mutlu's phenomenal achievements resulted in superstar status for him in his adopted homeland, where weight lifting was big business. His athletic prowess also led to his being compared to the legendary Suleymanoglu, his teammate and idol. Though the two had similar stories, were roughly equal in size, and had both won Olympic gold, Mutlu believed that there was not a comparison to be made between Suleymanoglu—“the greatest weight lifter”—and his biggest fan.

Shanda Siler

* * *

Universalium. 2010.