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Compiled 31 August 2010
Marcin LEWANDOWSKI, Poland (800m)
Born: 13 June 1987, Szczecin
Coach: Tomasz Lewandowski
The Lewandowski brothers – Marcin and Tomasz – throw their weight behind each other. It’s only thanks to their cooperation that Marcin became an 800 metre European champion this summer in Barcelona. It’s based on simple rules – it’s honesty and trust that matter. If one of the parties fails the team falls apart. "Marcin knows I can survive without him," says Tomasz, six years Marcin’s senior and his coach.
Marcin runs, it’s been so forever. It’s one of the stories he doesn’t like to recall. It narrowly missed a tragic end. Marcin is seven. His friends play in the trees behind the school fence. It’s close to where his family lives, just across the street. Marcin runs, doesn’t pay attention to the traffic. He crosses the street and falls right under the wheels of a bus.
His mum is on the balcony, she sees the motionless body of a kid under the bus and calls to his elder son. And it’s only after several seconds that she realises Marcin was going to run to his friends.
"It’s good thing that the bus was about to stop but it hit me hard anyway. I spent a week in a hospital," Marcin says as we pass the same bus stop and go to the same playground he was rushing so much to sixteen years ago. We walk, not run, which is quite unusual for the European champ. "I still prefer to run. I force myself not to only when somebody walks with me. It’s the right thing to do," Marcin says.
The younger brother always tried to do whatever the elder did. Tomasz trained for soccer in Chemik Police club. When Marcin became big enough he joined the club too. He played as a midfielder and did what he knew best – run. From one penalty box to another. His teammates kicked the ball, he ran after it.
This is when the brothers’ ways parted. The Lewandowski family moved to a small village, Brzoski, and Tomasz moved to another city, Slubice, to train for long distance runs (5 and 10 kilometres). "I was 18, Marcin was 12. When I visited home he would sit on my back and I would do push-ups. Or climb to 12th floor with him on my shoulders," Tomasz recalls.
In primary school Marcin was such a good athlete that they made him compete in different sports. But it was one spring day in 2002 that determined his future. Marcin was 15 and his running shoes were too big. But after the 1000 metre race Tomasz, who was a minder of the students' group, couldn’t believe what happened. He called a friend, the one who’s part of their team today. "Listen, Junior made one kilometre in 2 minutes 40 seconds!" he yelled.
Three months later Marcin went to the national championships of his age group. He won his heat. In the second only one guy outran him by 0.02 seconds. "I brought back a medal, I liked it," Marcin said.
This is how he became a track athlete. Since the very beginning with Tomasz by his side. For two years the practice was nothing but fun. Rare fun. When Tomasz was visiting from his university they ran. "I taught him everything. How to move, how to breathe. All the basics," says the elder brother. But there was something more to his lessons.
"Tomek always said that I need to be good. Not a good athlete, but a good man," Marcin recalls.
For the last eight years they only fought twice. "One day, in his teenager years, Junior came up with the idea that he gives himself a mohawk, a punk haircut. He already had a local sponsor who was using his image. That would be unacceptable," Tomasz says.
Fight number two was about a car. Once Marcin wanted to spend all his savings for a huge BMW which in his brother's opinion he didn’t need.
"But these are meaningless things, we never fight on practice. This is where I rule," Tomasz says. Now, a husband and father of 2.5-year-old he tries to stay aside from Marcin’s youth problems and his private life. "I just want him to be the best 800 metres runner it the world. If he fails me, I can manage without him. I can pursue my science work. Marcin knows I put my life on hold for him for the last eight years. Instead of having fun with girls I travelled with him to training camps."
Marcin listens and nods. "He did a lot for me. But I owe him nothing. This is how we both see that. I train for myself and if I’d lie I hurt myself not him," Marcin says.
How is it possible to keep this perfect harmony in an athlete’s life, where emotions always fly high? Both brothers are quiet and righteous people. Real family guys. Before the race they pray. "When I was a soccer player, before the match I touched the turf and made a cross sign. Now I touch a tartan track. I learned from Tomek to trust somebody high above. I’ll take with humility whatever comes," Marcin explains his sport philosophy.
The brothers try to visit their parents every weekend when not at a meet or camp. Their youngest sister, 9-year old Klaudia, lives there too. Elder sister Ewa, who is 26, moved to Germany. "We do care very much for these family reunions, holidays. We don’t talk sport too much. But our parents always ask how it was last time," Marcin says.
His mum gets very emotional about his races. Dad not so much. During the Barcelona final, for the first 600 metres he was absolutely calm. He even advised his wife, 'Stop yelling, he can’t hear you anyway,' But as Marcin approached to the finish line his dad started yelling, waving and jumping like crazy. And he’s such a quiet man.
There would be no success for Marcin if it wasn’t for Tomasz, but the Lewandowski team is not just the two of them. There is another Tomasz, Jurkowski. A very important person, a soul-mate they know for 14 years. What they have in common is love for running and huge interest in why you have to train one way, not another. The fourth guy is Marcin Kiedrowicz, a former runner responsible for the website marcin-lewandowski.pl.
Jos Hermens takes care of Marcin’s career since 2006. The renown Dutch manager, who works with stars of track and field, took interest in the 19-year-old Pole during the Junior World Championships in Beijing. Now, after four years, Hermens may say it was a right choice.
There is one important person missing in the Lewandowski team, a nutritionist. Marcin practically is a vegetarian so things may be tricky. Sometimes before the race he eats just pasta. "When he lived in the school dormitory, once a week I made grocery shopping for him, so he didn’t starve to death. He would just stick to bread and jam. I’ brought him dairy products, cereals, fruit. His room was the only one with a fridge. We made a special request for that," Tomasz recalls. He tries to raise his training skills constantly. He’s a graduated coach but he learns new things every day and looks for new methods all over the world. For many, his coaching style may seem weird.
"In 800 metre run, coordination is important. If you lose rhythm and pace you lose energy and distance. Marcin need all round training," Tomasz says.
And Marcin gets it. Sometimes his coach asks him to dance. Dancing is good for keeping rhythm and a good break from running monotony. A few years back Marcin, with some other runners, joined an aerobic class. Dressed in lycra pants, they mingled with girls.
"You need variety. Training hard, pushing your limits day after day and trowing up after every practice is not the key," Tomasz explains. "Our methods work. For the whole eight years Marcin stayed injury free and never failed on important race. And he never even explored his limits. The reserves are huge."
The brothers are open for new challenges. Last winter they spent three weeks in Kenya, where they stayed in the house of Wilfred Bungei, the 800 metre Olympic champion from Beijing.
"That was a hit in the bull’s eye. I still harvest from that camp. There’s not a single flat road there, always ups and downs. It was good for my stamina. But also an invaluable school of life to live and train with Kenyan runners with an Olympic champ among them. I was let into a treasury of knowledge," Marcin says.
He became European champion on July 31st. Before the final he seemed calm but he was boiling inside. As was Tomasz.
When Marcin runs he is always on the stands in the special spot. When Marcin passes him he yells words with special meaning, tactic hints. "I never hear it. Or I do, but in my subconscious. And I always do what Tomek yells," Marcin says.
When he crossed the finish line in Barcelona, Tomasz just fell into his seat. He was out of power and couldn’t even celebrate his greatest success. He felt relief it’s over.
He fell into his seat exactly as he did a year ago at the World Championships in Berlin. In the semis Marcin had his chances but fell on track, pushed by other runners. "I just buried my face in my hands. And our mum who was there too broke into tears," Tomasz recalls.
Just one month before the Barcelona Championships Marcin switched clubs. He left the school club Ósemka Police, founded years ago by his mum, and moved to a military club, Zawisza Bydgoszcz. He’s going to join the army to make a steady living.
So far it used to be hard at times, but they always have people they can count on. Chemical Factory Police SA used to help them a lot, but now is on the verge of bankruptcy. Marcin is an ambassador for Powerade. And there is Franciszek Jarecki. He’s in the steel trade but after business hours he’s a track and field fanatic. They met at the European Championships in Debrecen, Hungary, in 2007, where Jarecki was just a fan. After the race he congratulated Marcin, praised his professional approach and promised any kind of help if needed.
Soon after, the brothers found themselves in desperate need of a car. Tomasz’ car got stolen just one day after he bought it and they had to drive to the meet in Slovakia. Jarecki promised a car and a driver for the trip. Except the driver couldn’t make it. So it was just car, but no need to return it. Tomasz drives it till now.
There’s more stories like that. "In 2008 I didn’t qualify as an Olympic team coach. And I would die to go with Marcin to Beijing. Franciszek was my last chance. I called him and after a few minutes I had a flight ticket. We owe him the world and he never wanted anything in exchange," Tomasz recalls.
For an 800 metre runner, the best time for life achievements is right before thirty. At the London Olympics Marcin will be 25, in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, 29. He just needs to pay the price. Along with his girlfriend Magda, Tomasz, his wife Sylwia and son Oliwier.
"When he made his first step I found out over the phone from other end of the world where we trained," Tomasz says. "It’s a hard life for us and for our girls. We can only be grateful they keep supporting us. And they’re doing a great job." So far Marcin is a European champ. But he keeps running.
400 m: 47.76 (2009)
800 m: 1:43.84 (2009)
1000 m: 2:17.29 (2010)
1500 m: 3:40.38 (2010)
2002: 1:57.84; 2003: 1:55.46; 2004: 1:51.77; 2005: 1:48.86; 2006: 1:46.69; 2007: 1:45.52; 2008: 1:45.84; 2009: 1:43.84; 2010: 1:44.10
2005 7th (1500) European Junior Championships (Kaunas) 3:49.08
2006 4th (800) World Junior Championships (Beijing) 1:48.25
2007 1st (800) European U23 Championships (Debrecen) 1:49.94
2007 8th (800) World Student Games (Bangkok) 1:47.94
2008 7s1 (800) Olympic Games (Beijing) 1:47.24
2008 4th (800) World Athletics Final (Stuttgart) 1:49.40
2009 6th (800) European Indoor Championships (Turin) 1:49.86
2009 6th (1500) European Team Championships (Leiria) 3:44.39
2009 2nd (800) European Athletics U23 Champs (Kaunas) 1:46.52
2009 8th (800) IAAF World Championships (Berlin) 1:46.17
2010 3th (800) European Team Championships (Bergen) 1:45.74
2010 1st (800) European Athletics Championships (Barcelona) 1:47.07
Prepared by Rafal Kazimierczak and Marta Mikiel for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athlets’ project. Copyright IAAF 2010.