Polish Sporting Summer

Once every four years sport takes hold of everybody around the world. Major sport events follow each other by the day.

The Giro of Italy for the cyclists, the world’s best tennis players gather for the French Open, followed a little later by Wimbledon.

In between, people can enjoy the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix, the NBA finals, the Tour de France, Euro 2008 is live all the time for the world’s most popular sport, football; but the absolute highlight of every quartet of years are the summer Olympic games, this year to be held in China’s capital, Beijing. Of course many of the other events are held on an annual basis, but the summer Olympics make every fourth year since 1896 extra special.

Summer starts nicely for Poland

Poland’s sporting summer began extraordinarily in the early days of June. Female tennis player Agnieszka Radwanska reached the fourth round of the French Open, a tremendous achievement, which, together with her three tournament wins of 2008 in Pattaya (Thailand), Istanbul (Turkey) and Eastbourne (UK), gave the 19-year-old from Krakow an 11th place in the tennis world rankings.

But the season soon got even sweeter for the Poles. On June 8th another sportsman from Krakow performed something which many deemed impossible. Robert Kubica drove his BMW car in Canada to the first ever Formula 1 win for himself and for Poland. Due to the time difference, the Polish national anthem was being heard worldwide twice in quick succession. The ceremony in Canada just ended when Poland’s national football squad walked onto the pitch to take on Germany. It must have been a very proud moment for the Poles to hear the national anthem practically at the same time on both sides of the Atlantic.

Football deception

The euphoria was short-lived. Poland?s performance at the Euro 2008 tournament was very poor. It took a Brazilian in an offside position to score the only Polish goal of the tournament. Worst of all, that game ended in a draw and it was against the only team on the tournament weaker than the Poles themselves. The only player performing up to his par was goalie Artur Boruc, who prevented Poland from being humiliated by opponents Germany, Austria and Croatia. Needless to say, Poland did not survive the group stages of the tournament.

For the players, the coach and the football minded part of the Polish nation, it meant sitting out, crying out and getting the team back into shape before the qualifications start for the World Cup 2010. But for many other athletes, this summer is just getting started.

“The games must go on!”

The slogan “the games must go on” can be traced back to the drama of the 1972 summer games in Munich, when Israeli athletes were held hostage and later put to death by Palestinian militant terrorists. Although the Olympics are meant “to serve the development of mankind, to stimulate a worldwide peaceful society and to be concerned with prevailing the dignity of every human on the planet” (according to the principles of the Olympic movement), international political struggle often tends to overhaul the simple philosophy of “just fun and games.”

In 1936, Nazi Germany was on the rise when the Games were held in Hitler’s backyard. The West boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and the East returned the favour four years later by not appearing on the Olympic stage of Los Angeles. And today, half the world is threatening to boycott the event in China because of the repression of the people of Tibet. Fortunately for the event itself, a lot of athletes feel they have to participate, because in the most hypothetical situation, sports and politics don?t mix and should stay away from one another as far as possible.

No doubt, also in the Polish camp, some athletes wish to speak out about the atrocities taking place in the mountains of Tibet. Fact remains, that China already had a bad record on human rights when the Olympic games were rewarded to them in the first place. Leaving that out of the picture, according to international law, China rightfully states that others should not interfere with internal matters.

Polish potential

The majority of the world’s greatest athletes will no doubt gather in Beijing in 2008 to compete against one another for a coveted Olympic medal. Which of Poland’s finest are able to collect another gold for the proud red and white?

Otylia Jedrzejczak belongs firmly to the favourites for winning a medal in the swimming pool. Jedrzejczak (24), born exactly two years after Martial Law was declared in Poland, could use another gold medal. She auctioned the one that she won during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, to raise money for a children’s hospital in Wroclaw. Also, she wants to perform well since these are the first major games she has competed in since her brother died in a car crash in 2005. Otylia herself was behind the wheel.

What’s in a name?

Robert Korzeniowski was Poland’s guarantee for a gold medal during the last four summer games (unbeaten since Atlanta 1996!) in the discipline of walking. His sister, Sylwia Korzeniowska will compete in Beijing in the women?s 20 km race walk, but Robert – Poland?s most successful Olympic athlete ever – has already retired. But now there is Pawel Korzeniowski. And no, they are not related to one another. While Robert excelled on terra firma, Pawel is Poland’s second ace candidate in the water. The Oswiecim-born 23-year-old is the current Polish, European and world champion for the 200 metre butterfly for men. A definite Pole with potential.

Szymon Ziolkowski is another hope, albeit an outside one, for a medal in Beijing. The hammer thrower from Poznan already reached eternal glory by “hammering” it all the way to Olympic gold eight years ago in Sydney. At 32, this summer surely represents his last chance to add to his Olympic medal count.

Team sports

If Poland wasn’t successful in the game where they had to kick the ball, maybe they will have a better chance using their hands. Both the men and women of the Polish volleyball team have qualified for the Olympic tournament. But where the Polish men’s team seemed to have timed their rise in form to coincide with the big games, it seems that the women peaked in between the Olympics of 2004 and 2008. Nevertheless, both the male and female team in this discipline have a fair chance of climbing the podium. Meanwhile the male handball team are the current vice-champions of the world and will attempt to level or even improve that achievement in Beijing.

However, Poland’s major chances in team disciplines remain in – or more precisely on – the water. The eight men of the Polish rowing team performed very well during the Olympic trials held in Poznan and are considered strong outsiders in Beijing. The quadruple sculls, never a fear factor for the competition, suddenly have become top favourites with Marek Kolbowicz on board. As a solo rower, he has been crowned world champion three times, reclaiming his top spot each and every year since 2005.

235 athletes defending Polish colours and honour

Furthermore, Marek Plawgo (400m hurdles, athletics), Tomasz Majewski (shot put, athletics), Anna Rogowska and Monika Pyrek (both pole vault, athletics), Robert Krawczyk and Janusz Wojnarowicz (both judo), Mateusz Kusznierewicz (sailing), and Agnieszka Radwanska (tennis), should be considered serious contestants for Olympic medals. They are amongst the 235 Polish athletes that have already qualified for the Olympics.

“Poland has not yet succumbed,” are the opening words of the Polish national anthem, which at the moment are very applicable to the state of Polish minds. While the summer of sports beautifully began with Kubica racing to victory, the Poles had to swallow a huge disappointment when Poland suddenly forgot how to play decent football. But the Olympics in Beijing are just the right occasion to make up for that. Unlike the national anthem, where it is stated that the Poles reclaim their land after marching all the way from Italy, it is Polish sporting honour that is at stake, with the red and white hoping to reclaim Polish glory in sports, whilst marching back from China to Poland.

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