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09 MAR 2014 Feature Sopot, Poland

History made and the hurt forgotten for Licwinko and Kuchina

Kamila Licwinko in the high jump final at the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot (Getty Images)Kamila Licwinko in the high jump final at the 2014 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot (Getty Images) © Copyright

Things change quickly in the world of athletics. One moment you are jumping in front of janitors and cleaners in a training centre in the middle of nowhere, contemplating retiring from the sport and next winning the world title in front of thousands of spectators.

This is all true for Poland’s Kamila Licwinko, who won the women’s high jump gold medal at the World Indoor Championship in Sopot, together with Russia’s Mariya Kuchina, to the expected huge acclaim on Saturday night.

It was the first ever gold medal at the IAAF World Indoor Championships by a Polish woman, and the first shared gold medal in the hitstory of the championships.

The 27-year-old Pole enjoyed modest success as a teeanger and her early 20s, and finished fourth at the 2007 European Under-23 Championships but had not hit the heights many had predicted for her.

Her best indoor performance prior to the start of 2013 was 1.93m, a mark which dated from 2009. Good, but not world-beating.

However, she has enjoyed a quick rise to to the top of the podium less than two years after thinking about retirement. Since June 2012 she has been coached by Michal Licwinko, a former junior international shot putter who was then her boyfriend and who has been her husband since September 2013.

This relationship is proving to be fruitful because of the recent success, but it hasn’t been all unexpected.

“At the national championships, I jumped two metres unexpectedly. Here, I was supposed to jump high, so it was no surprise, but it (to win) was still great joy for me. I didn't know after clearing 2.00m that I was tied with Maria and I did not expect a jump-off. But I didn't feel capable of jumping again, the emotion was just too much for me.

“Maria felt the same, so after a conversation we decided not to continue. I had to go through a lot to get here,” she refelected.

Kuchina came to Sopot from a very different angle from Licwinko.

Just 21 years old, the Volgograd-based athlete was always at the top eversince winning at the inaugeral Youth Olympic Games in 2010.

Her Sopot success made it three major competition gold medals as she also won the European junior title in 2011.

Kuchina confusion

“When the competition was over, I thought that I was second. I mistakenly thought that Kamila had taken each height at her first attempt whereas we had both gone over 1.97m at her second attempt. I was confusing her with the Spanish jumper (Ruth Beitia, who jumped 1.97m with her first attempt but then needed two attempts at 2.00m and had to settle for the bronze medal).

"I was a bit upset because of this result and because of my third attempt at 2.02m, which was a good one. I wanted to tear my hair out, but then the Polish girl came to me and we agreed we do not jump anymore,” commented a relieved and delighted Kuchina who, neverthless, maintained her unbeaten record in five competitions this winter.

Although six years younger than Licwinko, Kuchina has had her problems as well.

After being in top form early in 2012, she suffered a shoulder injury in March that year, which ruined the season for her.

She didn’t get to the Olympic team and only won a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships where the spotlight was switched to her longtime Italian rival Alessia Trost.

In 2013, she took a big leap forward and finished second at the World University Games on home soil in Kazan, behind who else but Licwinko.

“There is a big target in the summer, the European Championships in Zurich. I do not think we will celebrate this gold medal in special way. The medal will go in a special place at my home where all my awards go,” said the Russian after the Sopot title, being quite modest about winning a title at her first senior major championships.

Mirko Jalava for the IAAF