Yerlikaya, Hamza (1976–)

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Yerlikaya, Hamza

Turkey's Hamza Yerlikaya is a world- and Olympic champion Greco-Roman style wrestler. A two-time Olympic champion, he is also the only Turkish wrestler ever to win the European championship eight times. Yerlikaya is the third Turkish man after Mithat Bayrak and Mustafa Dagistanli to win wrestling gold at the Olympic Games. In 1996 the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles named Yerlikaya Wrestler of the Year.


Yerlikaya's family is originally from Sivas, a town in the Southeast of Turkey, but in 1976 the family moved with three children to Istanbul. Hamza was born in Kadiköy, Istanbul, on 3 June. He was born into a family with six children, in which wrestling was spoken of on a daily basis and even joked about. Yerlikaya's father, Mustafa, was a former wrestler, who had to give up wrestling after the family's move to Istanbul and because of their limited financial situation. Because of his passion for wrestling, Mustafa Yerlikaya signed up his eldest son Muttalip for wrestling at the Istanbul Demirspor Club. A year later, in 1986, Muttalip encouraged Hamza—then eleven years old—to begin wrestling as well.

From 1986 to 1996 Yerlikaya was coached by Salih Bora, joined later by Muzaffer Aydin. Yerlikaya won his first gold medal at the 1992 World Cadets Championship, which was held in Istanbul. He still continues his work for Istanbul Büyükșehir Belediyespor (Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality), a club located in Istanbul, and has been coached by Hakki Basar since 2004. In April 2007 Yerlikaya underwent surgery to correct neck fractures, and was forced to withdraw from international competition.


Yerlikaya placed fourth when he attended his first international competition in 1991, at the World Cadets Championship held in Alma, Quebec, Canada. In 1993, at the World Wrestling Championship in Stockholm, Sweden, he competed and won a gold medal. Only seventeen years old at that time, Yerlikaya broke the record, becoming the youngest ever wrestling world champion. From 1993 to 1995, Yerlikaya attended various competitions, capturing international attention with his World Championship in 1995. At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, he won his first Olympic gold medal. He captured his second Olympic title with a gold medal in Sydney, Australia, four years later. To date, Yerlikaya has won three senior World Championships (1993, 1995, 2005), two World Cups (1997, 2006), and is an eight-times winner of the European Seniors Championship (1996–1999, 2001, 2002, 2005, and 2006).

Yerlikaya is currently a parliamentary candidate for the Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP; The Justice and Development Party), a right-wing, moderately conservative Turkish party, which has been under the leadership of Recep tayyip erdogan, the present prime minister of Turkey, since 2001.


Since the 1936 Olympic Games, Turkey has collected 36 Olympic gold medals, the vast majority of them in the wrestling competitions. Yerlikaya has been called the "Wrestler of the Century" and has entered history thanks to his achievements. So far, Yerlikaya has won 22 gold, 4 silver, and 2 bronze medals in international competition and ranks third among the most successful wrestlers in the world.


The idiom "strong as a Turk" is associated with Yerlikaya and his international success in wrestling. His high winning numbers have made Yerlikaya into a national hero, and Turkey celebrates his achievement in 85 kilogram Greco-Roman wrestling.


Name: Hamza Yerlikaya

Birth: 1976, Kadiköy, Istanbul, Turkey

Family: Single

Nationality: Turkish

Education: High school


  • 1986: Begins wrestling at age of eleven
  • 1991: Places fourth in first international competition, World Cadets Wrestling Championships in Quebec, Canada
  • 1993: Wins gold medal in World Wrestling Championships in Stockholm, Sweden, at age seventeen; breaks record for youngest champion ever
  • 1996: Wins first Olympic gold medal in Atlanta Olympics
  • 2000: Wins second Olympic gold medal in Sydney, Australia
  • 1996–2006: Wins eight European championships
  • 2007: Withdraws from international competition to undergo neck surgery


For sixteen years, no official clerk, no bureaucrat, no worker has worked under the hard conditions that I worked in. Perhaps our jobs may look easy from the outside. During one practice, we lift between 7 to 8 tons of weight, and we have to practices per day. […] State artists exist. I do not know according to which categories they become recognized as such by the government. I spend my whole life on the mat, achieve many successes, but am not able to receive a reputation as a state athlete. Why does this law not go through, I do not understand. Then one expects success from the athlete. […] We participate with 40 people to the Olympic Games. But we have a population of 70 Million. A nation with 2 Million populations sends 200 athletes to the Olympics. In Russia, a budget is set aside for the 2008 Olympic Games. We, however, expect success with the help of Allah. If we want to do something, we need to first make an investment.

     Hürriyet, 20 February 2007.


"Hamza Yerlikaya: Ömrüm minderde geçiyor." Hürriyet (20 February 2007). Available from

                                               Mine Eren