Ilhan Mansiz - The Turkish footballer who went from World Cup hero to figure skater

Ilhan Mansiz 2013
Football made him a hero but figure skating gave Ilhan Mansiz a new lease of life...

Now Turkey are hardly what one considers a traditional powerhouse on the international stage but football is full of surprises and as the old adage goes; the ball is round. So, there was a time not long ago when Turkey shocked the world, 16 years ago to be precise; at the 2002 World Cup which saw them clinch third place.

Guided by legendary Turkish manager Senol Gunes, that Turkish team in 2002 had real footballing talents. Hasan Sas, Hakan Sukur and the enigmatic Rustu Recber, just to name a few.  Joining them was Ilhan Mansiz. Mansiz was a super-sub in that tournament in Japan and Korea but would come up with vital goals when he was introduced into the game.  In the quarter-final, Turkey came up against a spirited Senegal and with the game goalless and was nearing towards a penalty shootout, before Mansiz expertly steered Umit Davala's cross past Tony Sylva for a 94th-minute golden goal that sparked wild celebrations in Osaka. He then started the third-place play-off against South Korea and scored twice in a 3-2 victory.

Moreover, the Turk would also be remembered for his impudent rainbow flick over Brazil’s Roberto Carlos when he was being shepherded out of play. It was truly a sublime piece of skill that left a deep imprint in the minds of footballing fans. That moment truly encapsulated the boldness of a Turkish team that surpassed expectations.  At club level, however, the speedy striker had somewhat of a nomadic footballing journey and included spells at Besiktas, the Japanese side Vissel Kobe and Hertha Berlin.

But in 2007, his life would be altered drastically as he suffered a car accident that greatly affected his ability to play football.  After surgery, eight months recovering and a brief attempt to extend playing, he was offered a place on the TV show Buzda Dans, Turkey's Dancing On Ice. He accepted the offer and never looked back. He would also find love in the process falling for his skate partner Olga Bestandigova, one of the professionals on the programme who competed at the 2002 Winter Games.

The Turk would also attempt to try and qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi highlighting how serious he took his second sport. What makes this surprising tale even more unlikely is that the German-born forward’s left knee was torn to shreds by the car accident. Sustaining medial ligament damage and with cartilage seemingly beyond repair, that he and his partner were still able to practise death star spirals, flying camels and double jumps is truly a remarkable turnaround. Recently, Paolo Maldini made headlines as he competed in professional tennis while Inter’s Ivan Perisic was involved in professional beach volleyball, proving that footballers can indeed do more than just kicking a ball.

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