Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
The Poles are very much into sports. Unfortunately there are not many disciplines in which Polish sportsmen achieve a lot of success. There are, however, periods during which one Pole becomes a leading sportsman in a given discipline – and then whole Poland starts to be interested in it. Fan clubs are founded and previously unknown man becomes national hero.
If one would ask about the most popular sport in Poland, most of the time the answer would be ‘soccer’. Although the national team is not thought to be strong one, it has a lot of fans and supporters all over the country. Each time ‘our boys’ play, you can see white and red flags hung up on houses, balconies etc. And each time the belief that this time Poland will win, is the same strong no matter the actual chances. To strengthen the faith of the Poles, the media all the time remind of the legendary match at Wembley from 1973, during which Polish team tied with England 1:1. It was the FIFA World Cup 1974 – where the team became third - that made the Polish football players, such as Kazimierz Deyna, Grzegorz Lato or Jan Tomaszewski, national heroes. The ‘silver 11’, as they were called at that time, is still the dream team of Polish football fans. Kazimierz Gorski stayed in minds of the Poles the legendary coach of the national football team. One of another former ‘stars’ of Polish soccer is Zbigniew Boniek.
As today’s national team cannot boast of great success, the fans focus on single players that are perceived as a proof of football skills of the Poles. One of such people is a goal keeper Jerzy Dudek who played superbly not only in the country but also outside it, in world famous clubs: FC Liverpool and Real Madrid. At the same time he represented Poland in championships.
The fans were also infatuated by the skills of some football players of Polish origin. One of them was Lukasz Podolski who lives in Germany but does not hide his Polish roots. This appreciation became much harder when Podolski scored 2 goals (for Germany) in the match against Poland during UEFA Euro 2008. Polish media were dominated by the question ‘WHY?’. Eventually great ‘Polish’ player... just in a wrong team.
Robert Korzeniowski is one of few Polish sportsmen who can boast of great international achievements. He won 4 gold medals at Summer Olympics and 3 world championships. But these are only few of his successes. In 2007 Korzeniowski became a General Manager of TVP Sport – new specialized channel in Poland.
Otylia Jedrzejczak is a Polish swimmer, Olympic champion from Athens 2004 (200 metre butterfly). She also silvered there in 400m freestyle and 100m butterfly and broke the world record in the women’s 200m butterfly three times. Whole Poland hoped for the long lasting career of this Polish swimmer. Unfortunately her career declined in 2005 when she had a car accident in which her younger brother, Szymon, got killed. As she was the driver at the time of the accident, the case was publicized. Till now Otylia did not reach her former shape but many hope that she will again surprise the world with her new sport achievements.
Many people still remember Wojciech Fortuna who won the Olympic Gold Medal in Sapporo in 1972. It was his biggest, and one of few, achievements in ski jumping. Fortuna was forgotten (worked even abroad) but a short video of his winning jump was shown each time when the tournaments started. Eventually Adam Malysz gained excellent form and started ‘malyszomania’ – a big Polish interest in ski jumping and in this tiny sportsman. Since his career started to decline, the ski jumping tournaments do not gather that big audience in Poland as before – but many still stress that it is not the end of Malysz. As there seems to be no young successor, the Poles watch ski jumping contests wondering whether Adam Malysz will be in the first 10 or not...
Robert Kubica is surely one of present prides of the country. He is the first Polish racing driver to compete in Formula One. No matter which places he scores now, he is still number one in his country bringing strong emotions to those seeking Polish sport heroes.