In terms of the Turkish athletes headed for the London 2012 Olympics, there looks set to be some important firsts for Turkey taking place at this summers event.
Turkey will be represented for the first time ever at the Olympics in a number of different sporting events, and for the first time also, the number of Turkish athletes attending the Games will surpass 100.
While a struggle to achieve quotas continues, at this point, Turkey has a guaranteed 138 athletes heading to compete in 21 separate disciplines. The increase in the number of athletes attending is connected with Turkey achieving the right to compete in team sports events in the Olympics. Another important reason for the increase in athletes headed for the Olympics from Turkey is connected to the success of paralympic athletes. Of the total 138 athletes going to London, 71 are paralympic athletes. While Turkey has fulfilled the quota of 67 athletes for 11 disciplines for London 2012, it has reached a record number of 71 athletes for 10 events in the paralympics.
Experts explain the record number of athletes traveling from Turkey to the Olympics mainly in three different ways. The first and most important reason is the desire felt by athletes and directors alike to see the Olympics finally come to İstanbul in 2020. Due to this desire, sports officials in Turkey have tried to ensure that Turkish athletes go in as great a number and to as many international sporting events as possible. Parallel to this, many new sporting facilities have been built in Turkey recently, with a great stress placed on increasing the interest of children and young people in sports as well.
The second important reason behind the record increase in athletes taking part in the Games is the increase in interest of female and physically challenged athletes. While Turkey sent only 68 athletes to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it will be sending 138 athletes to London, with a record number of female and physically challenged athletes participating. There were only 16 physically challenged athletes in the group that went from Turkey to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but there are 71 such athletes going to London.
The third reason pointed out by experts is that Turkey finally has a Ministry of Youth and Sports. Just one year has passed since this area was turned into an official ministry, but the year was used very well by the federations and the sporting world in Turkey in general. At the first meeting, Youth and Sports Minister Suat Kılıç told federation presidents that he wanted to see work move ahead at a tempo that would yield more chances for medals at the Games, and that included in this would be the sending of more athletes to the Games.
Up until just 20 years ago, Turkey had no athletes competing in the paralympic section of the Olympics. The first time Turkey had an athlete competing in this part of the Olympics was in 1992, at the Barcelona Olympic Games; the most such athletes from Turkey ever participated in was at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Over the years, Turkish athletes N. Korhan Yamaç, Gizem Girişmen and Neslihan Kavas have picked up four medals in this branch of the Olympics. Of the 16 physically challenged athletes competing in the Beijing Games, one was legally blind, while the others had different physical challenges.
The physically challenged athletes traveling from Turkey to London for the Games will be competing in futsal, goalball and wheelchair basketball. While so far 44 physically challenged athletes have gotten visas for London and 27 vision-impaired athletes have received visas, the Special Athletes Sports Federation is still working to get visas for a few more athletes.
While there are already a guaranteed 138 athletes headed for London from Turkey, this number may well increase in the coming months. This week it will become clear whether or not the Turkish female volleyball team will receive the go-ahead for an Olympic visa. And the female basketball team will be chosen sometime during July, during which time the chance it will get a visa for the Olympics increases.