The surest sign that you have arrived in Turkey is the number of people smoking cigarettes at any given moment. When I walked out of the airport, after a quick flight from Rome to Istanbul and an even quicker one from Istanbul to Antalya, nearly everyone walking out with me or waiting outside was smoking, putting out a cigarette, or lighting a cigarette. This is probably was Italy was like twenty years ago, or the US fifty years ago. It’s like being on the set of Mad Men, except with swarthier people. According to my guidebook some 45% of Turks smoke, but I don’t buy that; there is no way I could have found 5.5 people not smoking out of every ten I saw, even if I included children and babies. Good for them.
The second sign that I had arrived was the heat, and the fact that I’m going to spend the next few days more or less soaked in sweat. It’s not a bad heat, though, which is both good and bad, since it takes you a little while to realize you’re suddenly monstrously dehydrated and standing in a puddle of sweat while locals stare at you nervously.
After waiting at the airport for my prearranged ride to the hotel for over an hour I decided he probably wasn’t showing. Not anytime soon, at least. Perhaps he was hit with a sudden and highly lethal form of lung cancer. No worry. The email I had received supposedly confirming this ride was written in such that it could have been interpreted any number of ways, given the quality of the English used. I grabbed my luggage and headed out of the crowd of smoking Turks and grabbed a cab to my pansiyon in the Old City.
I dropped my stuff off in my room after checking in and went to inquire about a car with the hotel manager/owner, Aziz. The venue is something like 10 or 15km from the Old City, so walking is out of the question. Aziz was happy to help, and said he could get me a car for a very good price. Brand new. I asked if he could maybe swing a fireapple red convertible, or a White Shark, something with which I could do some late-night boulevard cruising or dragging along the Strip. But he just looked at me.
About an hour later the car arrived, and after completing the paperwork over some tea (the Turks incorporate tea into daily life almost as much as they do cigarettes; maybe the antioxidants offset the carcinogens), I was the new driver of the finest American car I had yet seen in Turkey. Not quite what I had requested, though.
A Chevy Cruze LS. It’s a fucking Whale alright. It might not look big compared to ‘Merican car standards, where anything under 100ft is a subcompact, but over here, on the tiny roads of the Old City, where Shane Hammon would have to suck in to turn some corners, this car is a goddamn oil tanker. Huge. Monstrous. It dwarfs other cars. And it looks even bigger thanks to those gigantic slab-sided doors, which maybe look cool in some deadbeat designer’s mind, but are ridiculous in a place where you want as much visibility as possible to avoid hitting shit that is molecules away from every side.
Also “Cruze” must mean something different in Turkish, because this car’s anemic engine is not exactly up to the task of making the battleship its saddled to do any real “cruising”. Unless maybe you open a door and use it as a sail.
Whatever. It’s actually not too bad inside. And it runs. And given how totally batshit crazy most Turks are behind the wheel, it’s probably not a bad idea to be walled up behind the fortress of some American land barge.
Safely ensconced at the helm of my ship, I headed out to try to find the Expo Center. When I asked one of the hotel workers how to get there, he assured me it was “very easy”. The hardest part, apparently, was getting out of the twisting, often one-way, narrow street Old City. Thankfully, he drew me a map:
Ah, that’s better. A road, a right turn, then a left (also on a road), then sort of a right and around something, then out into the Great White Void. Then what? I asked. “Then you just find somebody and ask where the airport is,” was the reply. “Very easy! Expo Center is right after.”
So armed with Magellan’s navigational information and a car only slightly smaller than what he used to cross the Atlantic, I set sail for the Expo Center, certain that it would go poorly.
Which, to my great surprise, it didn’t. The “map” was surprisingly accurate, and when I asked a gas attendant how to get to the airport and then Expo Center he knew where to send me, which basically consisted of staying on one road for about 7 km. And so about ten quick minutes later, I arrived.
Where the fuck was I? Are there no sign cleaners in this country?
The exterior itself looks slightly better, if a little imposing. If the revolution comes here, this is probably a good place to set up a stronghold. At the very least the rustic sign above might make anybody passing by think the place is abandoned.
After a cursory wave of a metal detector wand at the door, I was in.
Despite the building’s somewhat shabby exterior, the inside is fantastic. It’s huge, and the venue itself is well lit and festooned in the trappings you’d expect at a World Championship. They even have rays of balloons hanging from the ceiling. All very cool. Very impressive.
Within a few minutes of walking in I saw Danica and her parents, along with a few other US lifters. I sat and we watched the session then underway, women’s 63 B, which had Natalie Burgener. She did well, missing only her last snatch.
But enough about lifting. The really impressive thing was the training area. I first saw it in between the snatch and clean and jerk, while walking around with Danica. Without any hassle from security, we stepped into the area designed for training. This:
To say that it is big is an understatement. It’s so fucking big it even makes my rental car look small. Row after row of platform and lifting set. The platforms are numbered, and I think the highest number I saw was in the high 30s. There are a lot. And all are in excellent condition. All the bars look perfect, the plates new.
And of course it was populated with the best lifters from around the world. It wasn’t busy when I was there, but a few guys from Poland were lifting over in the corner, some of whom I recognized (including the Polish 77, Krzysztof Szramiak), and a few other countries were scattered about. I think I saw a few Romanians–including the kid who won the Juniors or the Europeans recently, I believe–and some swarthier looking guys who could have been Eastern European or Middle Eastern.
Naturally I had to train in this area, despite being starving and completely sleep deprived. After watching Natalie in the clean and jerk I went back to the training hall. It was still relatively uncrowded, so I picked a platform slightly away from everyone, not wanting to get in the way of the people there who were competing.
I also felt there was no need to show off in front of these guys and make them nervous before the competition that they’d be lifting against me.
But within a few minutes of setting up at my platform and starting to put my shoes on, a group of three lifters arrived with a coach and set up around me, each on a platform; one to my left, and two in front of me. It took a moment for me to recognize one of them, and then another: it was the Armenian team. Tigran Martirosyan (bronze in 2008 Beijing, 338 at 69; gold at the 2010 Europeans, with 360 at 77) and Ara Khachatryan (silver at the 2010 Europeans, with 368 at 85) were training right in front of me.
It was interesting to watch these two train, and see them interact. They both did simple workouts: snatch, a few quick pulls, and clean and jerk. And they went through it quickly. The warm-up was basic: some stretching, arm-swinging, bar work. Not much talking, but not dead silent either. When they started lifting it was fast, with little rest between sets and some pretty big jumps. In the snatch both went to 130, which looked easy. Ara went 70, 100, 120, 130, if i recall correctly; Tigran did 60, 80, 95, 110, 120, 130, as best I can recall. I don’t remember the clean and jerk progression, but it was similarly fast up to about 140. And who cares about pulls.
Both of them looked good. This is a cliche, but their form really did look identical from the bar up to top weight. Beyond their strength and speed–which were impressive–their consistency was what was remarkable. Very little deviation from one lift to the next, at least to my untrained eye.
In between sets they talked a little. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten all the Armenian I once knew, so I was left of the conversation. They seem to be buddies, though, and Ara helped load Tigran’s bar on a few occasions (a favor that Tigran did not return; wtf Tigran?). They finished everything in about an hour, which is about as long as it took me to get through just snatches and some pulls. I wonder what they made of me, covered in chalk, lifting their warm-up weight, sweating profusely and breathing like a dying gazelle, all while staring at them like a googily-eyed schoolgirl.
No matter. I need to get back to the venue. Tonight is the 69 mens A session. Time to get my googily-eyed schoolgirl look ready.
NB – I took a couple videos in the training hall of some monster doing around 200 in the clean and jerk, but my camera recorded them in some obscure file format that neither VLC nor Media Player will properly recognize (VLC plays only the audio, MP only the video), and I can’t figure out how to convert it (damn you, Bill Gates). If I ever figure it out I’ll upload them, or try to see if I can coax my camera into recording in a file format recognized in the known universe.