As of Wednesday, Turkish athletes had been largely unsuccessful at the Olympics held in England and had not won a single medal. Turkey’s 22-year-old swimmer Kemal Arda Gürdal, who was competing in the 100 meters, was eliminated on Tuesday, as were the other Turkish swimmers.
The country’s first badminton Olympian, Neslihan Yiğit, lost 2-0 to Taiwan’s Chieh Cheng. This was her first experience in such a huge event, though she has many international competitions under her belt. “Coming this far was also a huge success,” Yiğit said afterwards. “I did not perform well in my last match. I could have gotten better results,” she lamented.
Praising her efforts and those of other young Turkish Olympians, the head of the Sports General Directorate of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Mehmet Baykan said: “We are going to continue to see more of these young examples, their numbers will increase. Badminton is an area which we are new to and being in the Olympics was important. I think we will have more athletes competing in 2016 and 2020.”
Turkey also had one gymnast -- and also the first to compete in her sport -- in the Olympics. However, the 22-year-old Göksu Üçtaş suffered an unfortunate injury, ending her gymnastic stint on the balance beam. This is also the first time in 28 years that Turkey has failed to bring home a medal in weightlifting, which is known to be one of its strong suits. Sibel Şimşek did her best for the women, placing fourth, and Hurşit Atak took the same position in the men’s 62-kilogram.
The events of the XXX Olympiad are not over, however. Turkey’s strength lies in wrestling, as evidenced by the fact that 57 of the country’s 82 Olympic medals throughout history have come from this discipline. There are 12 Turkish wrestlers in London this year. One of them, Elif Jale Yeşilırmak, is the first woman to wrestle for Turkey and she is determined to make it count.
“I do not want to come back without a medal,” Yeşilırmak said prior to the games. “I’m going out onto the mat looking for the gold. If I am successful, I will be the first to win such a medal for the Turkish national team. This is a great honor for me,” the 26-year-old added.
Amongst Turkey’s most successful male wrestlers are names such as Ramazan Şahin, who won a gold in freestyle in Beijing 2008, two-time world champion Selçuk Çebi and Nazmi Avluca, who took home a bronze in Beijing in addition to a host of other international titles, including several World Championships and World Cups. “We will have a more difficult time compared to 2008 because your opponents are targeting you [if you have won in the past]. However, there is no problem when I am well-prepared,” said Şahin, noting that he had promised Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that he would bring home the gold.
There is also boxing. Of the six boxers who Turkey sent to London, Ferhat Pehlivan, Yakup Şener, Adem Kılıççı and Bahram Muzaffer continued on to the quarterfinals in their respective Olympic journeys in the various weight divisions. As boxing is one of the six sports that Turkey has won Olympic medals in in the past -- the country has two silver and three bronze medals to its name -- it is possible that at least one of these five will manage to place.
A fighting chance
Turkey has a whole host of competitive people in athletics events, as 25 women and eight men are participating in track and field events in London 2012. Star-studded names like Kenyans-turned-Turks İlham Tanui Özbilen, Polat Kemboi Arıkan and Tarık Langat Akdağ dot the list of men’s athletes, while Aslı Çakır Alptekin -- who participated in the 2008 Games -- Gamze Bulut and Gülcan Mıngır are among the many Turkish women hopefuls in London.
The Turkish women’s basketball team has also made a good showing, beating Angola 72-50 in their first game and edging the Czech Republic 61-57 in their second. On Wednesday evening the Turkish women faced the US, the top-ranked women’s national team. Fighting hard, they went down against the basketball powerhouse 89-58, but are still in the running for a medal.
Another sport that Turkey is hopeful in is women’s volleyball. Having narrowly lost 3-2 to Brazil in its first match on July 28 and then 3-1 to China on July 30, the Turkish women came back with a vengeance to defeat Serbia 3-0 on Wednesday.
“We had our ups and downs in the other games. We also had some downs in the Serbia match, but we served well. The opponents had a hard time returning [our serves],” said Erol Ünal Karabıyık, head of the Turkish Volleyball Federation, after the match. “We returned their serves well; we attacked well. This is our true identity,” he added, noting that it was only a matter of time before the girls exhibited their best form. The Turkish women play South Korea on Aug. 3 and are set to face the US on Aug. 5.
The team will unfortunately be missing middle blocker Eda Erdem, who suffered an unfortunate injury against Serbia. Team captain Esra Gümüş is confident in the team despite this serious setback. “God-willing, we will continue on,” she said emphatically.
Her words are echoed in other events, particularly those where Turkey has been known to excel, including the martial arts areas of judo and taekwondo. As in other sporting competitions, upsets and surprises are all too common in the Olympics, so it is impossible to predict what will happen based on the history books. However, one can venture a guess and say that Turkey still has a fighting chance via a number of its athletes in London 2012.