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The Warsaw Voice » Society » March 18, 2009
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Ski Marathon Draws International Crowd
March 18, 2009   
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Nearly 4,000 cross-country skiers from 31 countries flocked to the southwestern mountain resort of Jakuszyce on the Polish-Czech border March 7-8 to take part in Poland's largest cross-country skiing marathon, known as Bieg Piastów (Piast Race).

This was the 33rd annual Bieg Piastów and featured a series of competitions including the 46 km and 26 km classic and 30 km freestyle. Both competitive athletes and amateurs took part.

As in previous years, Czech competitors dominated Bieg Piastów's longest race, the 46 km classic. They claimed all three spots on the podium. Stanislav Rezac, a 36-year-old skier who has performed well in the world's largest ski races, including this year's Vasaloppet in northwestern Sweden, won in 2 hours, 17 minutes, and 1 second, ahead of his countrymen Tomas Jakoubek (2:21:37) and Radek Sretr (2:22:39). Zuzana Kocumova of the Czech Republic was the fastest woman (2:43:30), ahead of her compatriots Klara Moravcova (2:43:43) and Helena Erbenova (2:44:37).

Tomasz Kałużny was the best Polish male competitor, finishing in fourth place. The second best Pole, Piotr Kocoń, came in eighth. Many were surprised to see Ireneusz Pawlak, a 39-year-old amateur skier from the central-western Polish city of Kalisz, grab an impressive 15th spot after a few seasons of breathing down the necks of seasoned champions. Among the women, the best Polish competitor was Agnieszka Szymańczak, who finished fifth in 3:03:38.

In all, six Czechs, two Germans, and two Poles were among the top 10 male competitors, and the top 10 women included six Czechs, two Norwegians, one Pole, and one Italian.

In another event March 7, the 26 km classic, Austria's Josef Hones came in first, ahead of Poland's Jakub Mroziński and Arkadiusz Ogorzałek, while Beata Kawulok of the Czech Republic was the fastest woman.

On Saturday, March 7, the skiers had to brave a mixture of rain and snow and a thick fog that limited visibility to just a few feet. But the trying conditions did not discourage the competitors-many of them still remembered what happened last year when snow was in short supply and the Jakuszyce trails were in the worst shape in decades.

On Sunday, March 8, skiing conditions improved markedly after the temperature fell below zero Celsius at night. One event was held, the 30 km freestyle. Andy Liebner, a 25-year-old U.S. biathlete from Soldotna, Alaska, won, clocking in at just 1 hour, 15 minutes, and 7 seconds, almost 2 minutes ahead of Poland's Radosław Szwade and the Czech Republic's Sretr. Another Czech competitor Gabriela Soukalova was the fastest woman, ahead of Poland's Izabela Daniło and Sylwia Malinowska.

Bieg Piastów has been held annually at Jakuszyce since 1976, when a total of 531 skiers competed. This year's event was for the first time held under the auspices of the Worldloppet Ski Federation, which brings together the world's largest cross-country ski marathons, including Sweden's Vasaloppet, Austria's Dolomitenlauf, Italy's Marcialonga, Germany's Koenig Ludwig Lauf, Canada's Keskinada Loppet, the United States' American Birkebeiner, Australia's Kangaroo Hoppet, and the Sapporo International Ski Marathon in Japan.

Grzegorz Siwicki
(310th in the 30 km freestyle)
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