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The Warsaw Voice » Society » September 2, 2009
ATHLETICS
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Surprise Success
September 2, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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Polish track-and-field athletes returned with an unprecedented eight medals from the 2009 World Championships in Athletics in Berlin Aug. 15-23, surpassing the expectations of supporters and sports officials.

The Polish team came in fifth in the overall medal standings, behind the United States, Jamaica, Kenya and Russia. With two gold, four silver and two bronze medals, the Polish athletes outperformed sports powerhouses such as Germany.

For the first time, two Polish competitors took the podium in the women's pole vault. Anna Rogowska won the gold and Monika Pyrek took home the silver. The gold in the women's hammer throw went to Anita Włodarczyk, who also set a new world record and landed a check for $100,000. Poland claimed three other silver medals in the men's shot put, discus and hammer, adding a bronze in the men's high jump and another bronze in the women's heptathlon. The medal count bodes well for the Polish team ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

With its excellent showing in Berlin, the Polish team made up for its poor performance at last year's Olympic Games in Beijing, where Poland won only two medals in track-and-field events.

Włodarczyk shone as the brightest Polish star at Berlin. Although she had been listed among the top contenders in the women's hammer throw, few expected her to take the gold and set a world record in the process. She sent her hammer sailing a record 77.96 meters in the second round. An ecstatic Włodarczyk jumped for joy so hard that she twisted her ankle and did not make any other attempts until the sixth and final round when she executed a symbolic throw in a good-bye gesture to supporters, after it became certain that she had won.

Along with the gold medal, Włodarczyk received a check for $100,000 for setting a world record.

Commentators noted that Włodarczyk proved herself capable of winning a major international competition despite problems with training. She had trained for the championships under a bridge in Poznań rather than on a fully-fledged track-and-field stadium. Shortly before the championships, Włodarczyk had parted ways with her coach after a string of disagreements and had to prepare for the competition on her own.

Tomasz Majewski, a gold medalist from Beijing, won a silver in the men's shot put, losing out to Christian Cantwell of the United States, who threw 22.03 meters, versus Majewski's 21.91 m. After the competition, a clearly disappointed Majewski said his performance was a flop. He vowed to regain his Olympic title at the 2012 games in London.

Piotr Małachowski, another Polish medalist from Beijing, finished second in the men's discus, with 69.15 m, behind Germany's Robert Harting who threw a phenomenal 69.43 m in the final round.

Małachowski, who entered the competition with a finger injury, set a national record of 68.77 meters in the second round and followed up with 69.15 m in the fifth round.

Polish women pole vaulters defeated Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia who holds a world record of 5.05 meters and has won all major titles since the 2004 Athens Games.

Prior to the competition, experts were wondering who would be second and third behind Isinbayeva. To the surprise of spectators, Isinbayeva failed to clear any height.

As Isinbayeva held her head in despair, Poland's Rogowska cleared 4.75 meters with ease and celebrated an unexpected gold. Previously, Rogowska beat Isinbayeva at a meet in London in July.
The other Polish pole vaulter, Monika Pyrek, tied with Chelsea Johnson of the United States in second place after clearing 4.65 meters.

For the first time in the history of the World Championships in Athletics, Polish women athletes took the first two steps on the podium in a single event.

In another strong performance, hammer thrower Szymon Ziółkowski, 2000 Olympic champion at Sydney and 2001 world champion at Edmonton, won the silver with a 79.30 m throw. He finished second behind Slovenia's Primoz Kosmus, who sent the hammer 80.84 m. For Ziółkowski, who at 33 was about to retire from competitive sports, the success in Berlin marked a return to top form after flagging for several years. Ziółkowski was 14th at the Athens Olympics and fifth at Beijing.

Supporters were especially surprised with the two bronze medals for the Polish team. The first bronze unexpectedly went to Kamila Chudzik in the women's heptathlon and the second was claimed by Sylwester Bednarek, a 20-year-old high jumper who beat his personal best by four centimeters clearing 2.32 meters. Bednarek tied with Raul Spank of Germany in third place.

Officials from the Polish Athletics Association (PZLA) said Bednarek, 2008 junior world champion, had been sent to Berlin without meeting the national minimum to enter the competition. As it turned out, along with new experience, he brought home a medal, following in the footsteps of onetime Polish high jump champs Jacek Wszoła (1976 Olympic champion at Montreal) and Artur Partyka (silver medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and bronze Olympic medal at Barcelona in 1992).

The spectacular success of the Polish team in Berlin sparked hopes that, after many lean years, Polish track-and-field athletes would match the achievements of an erstwhile "wonder team" that was successful internationally in 1956-1966.
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