If you are a pro Olympic weightlifter or a hardcore fan of Olympic weightlifting then Leonidis Valerios need no introduction. Valerios is unarguably one of the best Olympic weightlifter in history. Earlier in his career, more specifically in between 1986 and 1991, Valerios represented the soviet union and won four gold medals in the 64kg class. Two in the USSR weightlifting championships and two in the summer Spartakiad of the USSR. Fast forward, after 1991, Valerios went on to represent his homeland Greece. Representing Greece, he participated in five European championships, four world championships and the famous Olympic games of Atlanta 1996 where his legendary battle against Naim Sulaymanuglu took place.
His medals at these championships were as follow:
- One gold (64kg class), three silvers (64kg class) and one bronze (69kg class) in the European championships
- Two silvers (64kg class) and one bronze (69kg class) in the World Championships
- Silver in the Olympic games of Atlanta 1996 (64kg class)
In this interview which is the fifth series of six series that I filmed during my visit to the national Olympic weightlifting center in Greece, we discuss various topics ranging from his career and his legendary battle with Naim Sulaymanuglu to the current Greece crisis.
Below is the first part of this interview where we discuss briefly Valerios’s career and certain interesting events that happened during his legendary battle against Naim in the Olympic games of Atlanta 1996.
Taha: Hi Leonidis, how are you doing today?
Valerios: It is yourly, yourly deadly….
Taha: You were one of my favorite lifters when I was growing up, I was always watching your clips online on the internet. Alex told me that you are the head coach of Greece’s National Olympic Weightlifting Team so I was really excited about meeting you and the other guys from the team and I was bugging Alex all the time to interview you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Valerios: What do you want me to tell you about myself. Today we have the internet and it is very simple to know everything about someone. Well, I was an athlete for many years now I’m fortunate to be the head coach of Greece national team of Olympic Weightlifting. I competed in many world championships and in the Olympics, I never left the sport when I stopped my career as an athlete in Olympic weightlifting and I started coaching right away. I’ve been coaching for many years now.
Taha: How long?
Valerios: Till the date of today, 9 years as the head coach of Greece national Olympic Weightlifting team.
Taha: How did you get to know Alex?
Valerios: The first time I met him, it was in 2008/2009 during The University World Championship. We met each other briefly and we spoke Greek a little bit. After like 2 years, around 2010, we met again during the World Championships, then in 2012 he came to Greece.
Alex: It was during that time when I started the administrative procedures that will allow me to represent Greece.
Taha: You had a very successful career in Olympic weightlifting, undeniably you were one of the best Olympic Weightlifters of all time. What was the best year of your entire career as an athlete?
Valerios: I have two competitions that I consider special. Not just the one in Atlanta 1996 but also the one in 1994 World Championship that took place in Turkey Istanbul. These two competitions were very exciting for me. During the 1994 World Championship, it was the first time that I got so close to Naim Sulaymanglu. We started knowing each other. I wanted to beat him and to close up the gab but Naim didn’t expect that I was strong and ready for that competition, that was the key element of excitement in that competition. Moving on, now that Naim became more aware of my abilities, there were some interesting events that took place during my competition against him in the Olympic game of Atlanta 1996. Before my last attempt of the Clean Jerk in Atlanta 1996 there was Something that happened and was against the rules. The official who calls the attempts told me to go to the platform for my last attempt and the rules dictate that after calling the athlete to the platform you can’t change the weight and the rules are very clear on that. But in my case, they started changing the weight while I was on the platform to do my attempt then I had to leave the platform because they lowered the weight to 155kg then they put back the weight to 182.5kg and Naim went out. I was just waiting and waiting, I didn’t understand what’s going and people around were fighting and my coach (Christos Iakovou) got hit. It was very sad for me because our sport is very simple and clear, you go out and you lift the weight and that’s all. After missing my last attempt, later in the warm-up room, the president of the IWF back then approached me and told me that he was very sorry and that there was a lot of crowds around and that if you would have gotten the attempt there would have been a big fight and everything around would have been destroyed.
Alex: They were scared because there were a lot of fanatics and he was competing in Turkey against Naim, and if he could have won in Turkey there would have been a big riot.
Valerios: They thought that they crushed me psychologically because I stayed 10min or maybe even more before I did my last attempt.
Alex: They aced him, he was able to do his last attempt 10min past the normal waiting time, which is not the usual in Olympic Weightlifting.
Valerios: I was in competition mode anyway, my mental strength was really high so anything outside the competition becomes nothing for me. Anyway, there are rules to be respected! For example in another competition, the world championship in China, I came second because of the body weight rule, although I lifted more than Naim. I did 148kg in the Snatch (a World Record) and Naim did 147.5kg in the Snatch, then both of us did 180kg in the Clean and Jerk, but he still won again because of the body weight rule back then and I took Silver medal. It depicts very nicely my career against Naim.
Taha: what was your relation with Naim?
Valerios: It was very good, I had his phone number and we used to talk from time to time but then I lost contact with him. I always asked about him by contacting other ex-athletes and other good friends of him, they told me that he was doing really bad because he had alcohol problems. The last time I saw him was in Antalya 2011, I spoke to him and he seemed to be doing fine after he sought doctors help but later on he started falling back to the same issue.