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The Warsaw Voice » Society » April 8, 2009
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Success, Failure, Hope
April 8, 2009 By W.¯.    
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Polish athletes have taken their supporters on a rollercoaster ride of emotions in the past few weeks.

A string of successes for cross-country skier Justyna Kowalczyk and biathlete Tomasz Sikora was followed by a cold shower when Polish soccer players lost a World Cup qualifier to long-shot Northern Ireland. Then, however, they crushed San Marino, in a win that may still leave them a glimmer of hope of making it to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa-provided they win most of the remaining qualifiers.

Kowalczyk, a worthy successor to ski jumper Adam Maùysz as Poland's number one winter sports hero, collected the Crystal Ball in Sweden after she won the cross-country skiing World Cup, outperforming Slovenia's Petra Majdic in the last event of the season. Kowalczyk added the trophy to two gold medals and a bronze she won in the World Championships in Liberec in the Czech Republic. Despite pressure from her rivals, Kowalczyk won the final 10-kilometer race in the Swedish town of Falun, and for the first time put on the yellow jersey of the World Cup leader.

Tomasz Sikora, an experienced Polish biathlete, was in his prime again this past season. Although he did somewhat worse than usual at the shooting range, his skiing was superb and he came in first in one World Cup event and took to the podium six times in total. His consistent performance gave him second place in the overall standings, an unprecedented success in the history of Polish biathlon. Sikora led the World Cup pack for 42 days and was only outperformed at the end by Norway's Ole Einar Bj¸rndalen.

Meanwhile, the Polish soccer team, coached by Dutchman Leo Beenhakker, suffered an embarrassing defeat in their first match this spring, losing 2-3 to Northern Ireland in Belfast. They even scored an own goal after a glaring mistake by goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who was also to blame for a previous goal. The match could have cost Beenhakker his job, but after some team reshuffling, in the next match the Polish team thrashed visitors from San Marino 10-0 in Kielce, scoring their largest number of goals ever.
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