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The Warsaw Voice » Society » March 12, 2008
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Beating the Weather
March 12, 2008   
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Rain or shine, Poland's premier cross-country skiing marathon draws thousands of competitors every year.

Despite the scarcity of snow this winter, more than 3,000 cross-country skiers from 18 countries flocked to the mountain resort of Jakuszyce on the Polish-Czech border March 1-2 for a series of annual competitions collectively known as Bieg Piastów (Piast Race). This was the 32nd Piast Race to date and it featured events such as the 25 km and 10 km classic and 25 km and 10 km freestyle. They attracted both competitive athletes and amateurs. The key annual race, the 50 km classic, was shortened this year first to 33 km and then to 25 km due to an unseasonably warm winter and insufficient practice for skiers.

Petr Novak of the Czech Republic won the main men's race, ahead of his countrymen Dan Slechta, Viktor Novotny and Radek Sretr, while Eva Nyvltova of the Czech Republic was the fastest woman, ahead of Belarus' Irina Nefranovich and the Czech Republic's Helena Erbrenova and Klara Moravcova. Piotr Kocoń, from the AZS AWF Katowice sports club, was the best Polish male competitor, finishing in fifth place. The second best Pole, Tomasz Kałużny of LKS Poroniec, came in 10th, just two seconds ahead of Przemysław Pastor, a promising 18-year-old skier who is breathing down the necks of seasoned champions.

Among the women, the best Polish competitor was Agnieszka Szymańczak, from AZS AWF Katowice, who finished fifth. Two other Poles, Monika Długa (MKS Halicz Ustrzyki Dolne sports club) and Natalia Grzebisz (UKS Rawa Siedlce), were seventh and eighth respectively.

On Saturday, March 1, the weather was against the skiers, making the competition one of the most difficult ever. On the night before the main race, Hurricane Emma brought with it downpours of rain on the already fragile Jakuszyce trails, turning some of them into gushing mountain streams. Until the last minute it was not certain if the competition would take place.

The event's chief organizer, Julian Gozdowski, admitted later that he was about to cancel the marathon for the first time in years. But minutes before the 25 km classic event was due to begin, the rain turned into snow and the competitors got off to a fine start. Throughout the race, they braved fierce wind blowing in their face. Many crossed the finish line on their last legs.

The event attracted 2,100 competitors including Poles, Polish expats and competitors from countries such as Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Britain, Lithuania and Belarus.

On Sunday, March 2, skiing conditions improved after snowfall at night, and the trails were in better condition. Three events were held, the 10 km classic, the 10 km freestyle, and the 25 km freestyle. Unlike the previous day, when Czech competitors dominated, on Sunday Poles stole the show. Magdalena Nykiel won the women's 25 km freestyle; Witold Ortyński was the fastest man in the 10 km classic, and Martyna Plucińska turned out to be the fastest woman in the same race. Adam Kaczmarzyk won the 10 km freestyle.

The Piast Race has been held annually at Jakuszyce since 1976, when a total of 531 skiers competed.

Apart from the Piast Race, the Jakuszyce Cross-Country Center, near Szklarska Poręba in southwestern Poland, offers more than 50 km of well-tended cross-country trails with various difficulty levels throughout the season, which often begins in late October and ends in mid-May. This season, as global warming advances, Jakuszyce has been one of the few places in Poland where cross-country skiers have been able to strut their stuff.

Grzegorz Siwicki
(56th in the 10 km freestyle)
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