2012-02-24

Turkish athletes gear up for Olympics

The Games just five months away, SES Türkiye spoke with some of the Turkish athletes.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 24/02/12

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The London Summer Olympics quickly approaching, Turkish athletes and their coaches are getting ready to win big. While each athlete and sport is different, they all share one common denominator: dedication to their mission and pride in representing their country.

  • Goksu Uctas will be the first gymnast to represent Turkey at the Olympics. [Selim Bayraktar]

    Goksu Uctas will be the first gymnast to represent Turkey at the Olympics. [Selim Bayraktar]

For the first time in its history, Turkey will participate in all 28 categories, but the ancient ancestral sport of wrestling and weight lifting are still considered Turkey's strengths.

Greco-Roman wrestler Riza Kayaalp, 23, who won the world championships in 2011, told SES Türkiye he is focused on bringing home the gold medal. "In fact, all these awards were part of my childhood dreams and I'm now determined to get the best results for my country in 2012 to bring my dream to fruition," says the 120kg Kayaalp, who also holds the European Champion medal and was nominated the best wrestler of 2011 by the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles.

"You know, wrestling has provided Turkey with 28 of her 37 gold medals and I will add the 29th to this list," Kayaalp said.

Turkey also packs a powerful kick in taekwondo, a sport in which it won gold and bronze at the 2011 World Taekwondo Championships in South Korea.

"I have only one target this year: to win the gold medal in taekwondo for the first time," taekwondo master Nur Tatar told SES Türkiye. She ranked first in the European Taekwondo Qualification Tournament for the Olympics in January.

"I'm only 19 years old, so I have enormous time and energy to break a record and to have Turkey's name written in gold letters at the Olympic Games," Tatar says.

Goksu Uctas, 22, is a pioneer, competing as Turkey's first Olympic gymnast. Uctas took the silver medal in the jumping table (vaulting) at 2009 Mediterranean Games, the first medal won by Turkey in this category. During the World Championships at Doha in March 2010, she won the bronze medal, and again last year won three other medals -- one gold and two silvers -- at the World Cup competitions held in the Czech Republic.

"I'm so honoured to be part of such an outstanding event that I cannot express my feelings through any kind of word," Uctas told SES Türkiye. "I gained a chance to showcase my skills, so I will represent my country in the best possible manner. I’m aiming to get a medal."

High jumper Serhat Birinci, 22, who has won several medals in international and regional competitions, is setting the bar high. "For me, the end goal is not just participating, but to come back in my country as the first Turkish athlete who reached 2m and 30cm in the high jump," Birinci told SES Türkiye.

Birinci picked up the sport as a boy and quickly progressed. "I know I have a long road ahead of me, so I'm working very hard to be successful," he added. "I'm motivating myself on a continual basis and when training, I'm always thinking that I will reach my target and make the star of my flag forever shine."

In an ideal world, the Olympic Games offer a venue to promote peace, friendship and mutual understanding among athletes and countries. But practically speaking, there are issues.

"The teams of each country are accommodated in different places during the Olympic Games," Kayaalp explained. "So, there is a physical barrier which prevents us from establishing further communication channels with them. After all, our first and foremost goal during the Games is to represent Turkey in the best way. We don't think about anything else."

Kivilcim Kaya, 20, a hammer thrower with many medals on the international and European scene, points out there are deeply rooted prejudices among athletes. "In general, there is a potential disagreement between them," she explains. "I witnessed several times that in the buses carrying athletes from the stadium to the hotels, athletes were talking about Turkey in a hostile manner."

Riza Kayaalp, Nur Tatar and Goksu Uctas are sponsored by global nutrition and weight management company Herbal Life.

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