I did not even plan to write about Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy in 2006 because I did not believe that we are going to have anybody winning the medal, but we did not only one but two more medals and it two different sport disciplines! Poles always had a stronger team in summer Olympic games compared to winter. We were lucky enough to win two medals in last winter Olympic games in Salt Lake City. But this was thanks to one person, our national hero, ski jumper Adam Malysz and everybody expected this. In these Olympic games we did not have a black horse to bet to.
We were still counting on Adam Malysz, but he was not in the best shape, besides, the ski jumpers career usually does not last very long. Poles received two medals - a first bronze and the second silver almost at the end of olympic games. 23 years old Justyna Kowalczyk won a bronze in Cross country skiing: Women's 30km Freestyle. The day later Tomasz Sikora won a silver in a Men's 15km Mass Start in Biathlon.
Justyna Kowalczyk is still very young but she is a very experienced skier. She was born in the mountain town, Limanowa, in 1983. Her parents wanted her to be a medical doctor, just like her older sister and brother. She still remembers healing her sick dolls when she was a girl. Justyna was always very good in sports, especially in track and field competition. The only sport club in her town specialized in skiing and this was the direction Justyna decided to follow. Justyna started competing internationally in 2001 but she had to wait until the real international recognition until 2004. She started winning at international competitions for juniors. The last year on the world championship in Obersdorf she was fourth in the women's 30 km classic style. Unfortunately she was disqualified after the competitions for two years since the drug control showed dexametazon in her body. This was really a shock to Justyna since she was unaware that the medicine she was given for the tendon pain belongs to the list of forbidden drugs. Later the disqualification was shortened to one year, because it was obvious that Justyna did not take the drug to boost her performance and it allows Justyna to participate in this Olympic games in Torino. See Justyna photo with her couch.
The first starts after the end of the disqualification (December 30, 2005) were very successful, she took part in several competitions, gained many points, won the world championship for women until 23. But the beginnings in Torino were not very good. She lost consciousness during her favorite competition - 10 km classical style because of hypoglycemia. In sprint ski run she was only 44th. Not too many people counted that she will won a medal in the next much longer and more strenuous competition - 30 km freestyle but she did in a great style. She went ahead the rivals during climb up, since she knows that other skiers are better on the flat terrain. She was ahead of everybody for a long time, only 50 meters before the final line she was overtook by two more experienced skiers. Both of these women who won gold and silver already decided they would finish their sport careers after Torino Olympic games, so there is quite a chance for Justyna to gain more and more titles in the future, especially since she is still so young, so hard working and ambitious. The success of Justyna is also attributed to her excellent couch, Aleksander Wiertelny, originally from Kazahstan but born in Finland. See the photograph of Justyna with the coach.
Tomasz Sikora was born in 1973 in Wodzislaw Slaski in Silesia in Southwestern part of Poland. It seems that almost all Polish sport competitors for Winter Olympic games live in the South part of Poland, near the mountains. Polish mountains have sufficient amount of snow through the winter season and numerous winter sport objects to train. Tomasz is active in biathlon since 1987. Biathlon competition developed from the military training of ski troops since it combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. Sikora had a strong start, in 1992 he won the championship of Poland, in 1995 - the world championship in 20 km sprint. Sikora could not repeat such good results later on, he was only 25th in Salt Lake in 2002, he already deliberated whether to finish the career. He was planning to take a job in the tinning & roofing company of his brother. But then, the new couch Roman Bondaruk from Ukraine came and Tomasz gained his form again. In 2003 and 2004 world competitions Sikora was among the best ten in the world. In 2005 in Oberhof he won a second place in world championship. Tomasz Sikora just like Justyna Kowalczyk did not start Torino games with the good luck. He was only 21 in his best competition - 20 km biathlon and only 20th in sprint, then he was a bit better in a relay race. Sikora won a second place and a silver medal in Men's 15km Mass Start. He was on the lead until the fourth round. But he missed the last shot to the target and because of that he was penalized and lost to German, Michael Greis who was in excellent form winning three gold medals in Torino and not missing any shot at all. See the photograph of Tomasz Sikora after crossing the final line.
In spite of winning two medals, Polish mass media and sport couches and managers pointed out that there is just not enough sport work at the roots. There is also a lack of the training facilities. For instance Polish bobsled and luge competitors do not have even a good race track to train on. I read somewhere in the Polish press the statement that it is good that we are not like Japan (Walesa was famous for saying that Poland could be a second Japan), especially in the winter sport. Japanese had 120 millions people and they got only one medal, we have 40 millions and already two medals. So, at least in this area Japanese could be jealous of us.
I recommend the following book written by Thomas M. Tarapacki Chasing the American Dream: Polish Americans in Sports
Check also a book devoted to a history of footbal:
Gridiron Greats: A Century of Polish Americans in College Football
by Ben Chestochowski