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The Warsaw Voice » Society » September 3, 2008
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Athletes Lack Luster, Coaches in Disgrace
September 3, 2008 By W.Ż.    
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Poland's athletes failed to live up to fans' hopes in the Beijing Olympics, while Polish officials and coaches came under fire for their off-field performances amid a public drunkenness scandal.

In the overall medal tally, Poland finished in 20th place with three golds, six silvers and one bronze. The overall tally was the same as in Athens four years ago only then there were two silvers and five bronzes. Polish Olympic Committee officials were hoping for a good deal more before the games as were the athletes themselves. There was talk of at least 14 medals and some were counting on as many as 18. Especially high hopes had been held out for the water sports of rowing, sculling, canoeing/kayaking, yachting and swimming. All that came of this was a single gold medal for the men's quadruple sculls, a silver from the men's four's rowing, and another silver from the women's kayaking pairs. The Athens tally for these events was double that.

However, the men's quadruple sculls team fulfilled expectations by bringing home gold, and gymnast Leszek Blanik won his key event, the horse vault. Weightlifter Szymon Kołecki brought home a hard won silver medal in the under 94 kg event, and a somewhat surprising silver went to Maja Włoszczowska in mountain biking.

There were also a couple of Polish bright spots in what were otherwise some very downlifting track-and-field events. Shot-putter Tomasz Majewski blitzed all-comers to win gold, while discus thrower Paweł Małachowski took out the silver in what was a very close contest. But pole vaulters Monika Pyrek and Anna Rogowska, touted as medal favorites before the games, and former Olympic hammer throwing champions Kamila Skolimowska and Szymon Ziółkowski all powered into the pantheon of the also-rans.

Poland's brightest tennis star and Grand Slam quarterfinalist, Agnieszka Radwańska, was eliminated in the second round. In yachting, Athens Finn-class bronze medalist Mateusz Kusznierewicz teamed up with Dominik Życki to try his hand in the Star class and finished fourth.

Poland's fighters and wrestlers did not pack much of a punch either, with 19-year-old freestyle wrestler Agnieszka Wieszczek being the only medal winner after taking out the bronze medal in the under 72 kg division. Wieszczek was making her Olympic debut. Most other Polish wrestlers and boxers were eliminated during the opening bouts.

Polish athletes failed spectacularly in team sports. The women's volleyball team, dubbed the "Goldies" after their recent European championship successes, crashed out as did the men's volleyball and handball teams. The men's volleyball team were perfunctorily despatched by the much weaker-on paper at least-Italians after downing Russia in a five-set cliffhanger. The handball team had a few good games, but lowly ranked Iceland proved too strong in the quarterfinals.

The female foil fencing team were dispatched in the early rounds after having been expected to win. A similar fate befell individual foil fencer Sylwia Gruchała, who later led the women in accusing their coaches and Polish Fencing Association officials of having failed to adequately prepare them for the Beijing Olympics, of having neglected their needs and of indulging in drunken excesses.

The Polish male epee fencing team did better, coming away with silver. They did confirm, though, what their female counterparts had been saying about morale, echoing the women's accusations that fencing officials were often drunk.

One Polish television station showed the women's epee fencing coach unsteady on his feet, and the press reported that Polish Fencing Association president Adam Lisewski had earned a reputation for drunkenness at previous Olympics.

Fencing officials were not the only ones to blot their Beijing copybooks. Polish Track-and-Field Association vice-president Jerzy Sudoł, after drinking too much, fell asleep on the lawn in his Polish national team tracksuit with his ID badge in full view. Sudoł resigned a few days after arriving back in Poland in disgrace.

The swimming results were a particular letdown for Polish sports fans. Swimmers like Paweł Korzeniowski, on whom the nation had pinned high hopes, turned in times way below their personal bests and sometimes, as was the case with golden girl Otylia Jędrzejczak in the 100-meter butterfly and the 400-meter freestyle, even failed to make the finals.

Jędrzejczak, the 200-meter women's butterfly gold medalist from the Athens games, came fourth place in the same event this time around. Disappointingly, this was the best result of any Polish swimmer in Beijing.

However, Poland's minister for sport, Mirosław Drzewiecki, and Olympic Committee President Piotr Nurowski insisted the Polish team's Beijing performance was a success on the whole. The 263-strong contingent was the largest ever and the four years of preparation set the country back zl.284 million.
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