Turkish athletes get ready to make their mark at the London Olympics to increase Turkey's international standing in sports.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 23/07/12
Turkey's women's basketball team will compete in the Olympics for the first time. [Reuters]
In a bid to raise Turkey's profile to host the 2020 Olympics in Istanbul, the country is sending a record 114 athletes to compete in the London Olympics, which open this week, with observers expecting a strong performance in wresting, weightlifting and taekwondo.
Ramazan Sahin, the 66kg wrester who took gold in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is a Turkish favourite expected to bring home Turkey's 29th gold medal in the sport. But with athletes competing in a record 16 sports, there are high expectations Turkish athletes will highlight the county's rising status and readiness to host the games in 2020.
Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo are the finalists for the 2020 games, with the final vote scheduled for September 7th 2013.
Ugur Erdener, the head of Turkey's Olympic Committee, told SETimes that the heightened role of women on the national team is an important part of Turkey's strategy.
"This year, nearly 60% of the athletes are women, which is strong proof of the importance Turkey's Olympic Committee accords to the need for increasing women's activity in sports," he said
Turkey still has a long way to go to strengthen its sports record and show it is ready to host in 2020, however. The ministry of youth and sports was established just last year and has been actively building sports facilities and encouraging youth to get involved in athletics.
Erdener said financial resources to sports have been allocated by the state, sports federations and sponsor companies that have increased Turkey's prospect of winning medals in London and securing Istanbul's bid to host the 2020 Olympics.
In London, Turkey will compete in gymnastics, sailing, badminton, women's volleyball, women's basketball, boxing, shooting, archery, judo, taekwondo and athletics (field sports).
In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, 67 Turkish athletes competed in 12 sports and won one gold, four silver and three bronze medals.
Turkey has high hopes for a stronger performance in London. Turkish athletes won seven medals at European Athletics Championships held in Helsinki, Finland, in June, becoming the fifth-highest medal winner among 50 countries competing in 42 events.
One rising athlete is the female hammer thrower Kivilcim Kaya. "I'm dedicated to my target as a female hammer thrower. My biggest goal in the Olympics to surprise my competitors in all over the world," Kaya told SETimes.
Nevin Yanit is a female sprinter competing in hurdling. In the European Championships she won gold in the 100m hurdles, showing another success of Turkish women athletes eager to make history in the Olympics.
"[Yanit] aims to increase her Olympic success to the highest point and running to win the finals," her coach Cuneyt Yuksel told SETimes. "So that gives her extra responsibility. But she believes in herself and I trust her. I know that she can make it as long as her motivation is high."