Turkey wins first medal at the Rio Games

A weightlifter has taken Turkey’s first Olympic medal in Rio. Daniyar İsmayilov won silver in the men’s 69kg competition after lifting a combined weight of 351 kilos. He was beaten to the gold medal by China’s Shi Zhiyong, whose total was one kilo heavier.

Kyrgyzstan’s Izzat Artykov took the bronze with a combined total of 339kg, becoming the country’s first-ever weightlifter to win an Olympic medal.

Of Turkmenistan-origin, İsmayilov was televised in the waiting room kissing the Turkish flag embroidered on his tracksuit top. After the competition had ended, the 24-year-old silver medallist told media he was inspired by the Turkish public’s bravery during the recent coup attempt.

Four years ago, İsmayilov represented Turkmenistan at the London Games. He is one 25 athletes who have been given Turkish citizenship to compete for Turkey, making up nearly a quarter of the 103-strong Rio squad.

Mehmet Yurdadön
Mehmet Yurdadön

The controversial inclusion of so many foreigners – dubbed “devşirme” – into the Turkish national team has drawn the ire of several Turkish sports writers and commentators, including writer Mert Aydın, and former athlete and Turkish Athletics head Mehmet Yurdadön.

They accuse the government of short-termism. They feel this approach is not only detrimental to the development of Turkish athletes, but that it does not resonate well with the public, who show little interest in imported athletes, even if they are world-beaters.

Last month Yurdadön told Al Jazeeza: “Athletics can’t improve with devşirme. If you use the devşirme as pioneers, that’s OK. First of all we have to change the system. We need to move our policy away from being medal-orientated to people-focussed. Otherwise we won’t be able to overcome doping. From the education curriculum to the organisation of sports, it’s vital there is a complete overhaul. Otherwise even with 7 million devşirme the results won’t change. These devşirme’s medals don’t make the public happy.”