London, UK - We are not in the habit of referring to women as girls, but since the expression 'girl power’ seems to be common currency nowadays; and since both the new Olympic women’s 1500 metres champion, Asli Çakir Alptekin, and her friend and rival, silver medallist Gamze Bulut announced that their medals were proof of 'Turkish Power’, we beg your indulgence.
Both women and Alptekin’s coach/husband Ihsan said that the Turkish one-two was the result of a pre-race plan. And in any case, Alptekin, also the European champion was clearly the fastest woman in the field, with her 3.56.62 in the Paris Golden League over a month ago. So her victory should not have been a huge surprise. But, maybe the first one-two in Olympic women’s 1500 metres history was a surprise.
According to Ihsan, there was a team discussion about the likelihood of a slow pace; which is exactly what happened. With a first lap of 75.12sec and an 800 metres time of 2.23.97, we were a long way from Romanian Paula Ivan’s 2.05 opening 800 in Seoul '88, on her way to a solo victory.
"We talked together with Gamze’s coach (Solomon Antilonuk) before the race," said Ihsan, "and we said if the pace is slow, Gamze would pick it up. We thought they would do well, fast or slow, but we didn’t want to take a chance with a slow pace. In the end, it didn’t matter who won, as long as it was one or the other."
"We came to win gold and silver," said Asli, "we wanted two medals. And this is what we did. This is 'Turkish Power’." Gamze echoed her sentiments. "I wasn’t favourite before the Games, but I ran 4.06 in the heats, and 4.01 in the semi-final, which was a personal best. We talked about how to run before the race, and it worked out the way we wanted. And I would like to say again, this was 'Turkish Power’."
Alptekin follows 1996 champion, Svetlana Masterkova in winning both European and Olympic golds, though the Russian took the Area title two years after her Olympic success. On the other hand, 4:10.23 was the slowest winning time in the women’s 1500 metres in Olympic history.
Alptekin hails from Kayseri in Anatolia, right in the middle of Turkey, to the south-east of the capital, Ankara. But she competes for the municipal UBS club in Istanbul. Nowadays, she and her husband live about 400km west of her birthplace, in Kütahya, which is close to 1000 metres above sea-level.
She first became known as a steeplechaser, but began, she says as a 1500 metres runner. "When I was a junior the standard was very high in the 1500 metres, so I moved to the Steeplechase, but when I got married, my husband said you are stronger in the 1500 metres, so I switched back."
Asli insisted that her victory was part of a team effort; and it was certainly Gamze who picked up the pace, as they had planned, after the pedestrian opening 800 metres. "We came to win medals together," said Asli, "these are like two golds for us, because we share this success. Every athlete has a dream to win at the Olympics, and we succeeded."
"Our target was to win two medals, we say it before every competition. We are like sisters, we run every race together."
Coach Alptekin said that the emergence of Turkish women athletes at these Games is a result of targeting. "We have many good young athletes nowadays, especially women," he said.
Our interpreter for the evening, broadcaster, and still national Triple Jump record holder from 2002 (13.69m), Aysegul Baklaci corroborated Ihsan’s words. "When young men leave university nowadays, they drop sport, because they’re more concerned about their careers, but young women are taking sport more seriously; they are far more professional."
So the verdict seems to be – expect even more Turkish 'Girl Power’.