Monika Pyrek (POL) competing at the World Championships in Paris (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Pyrek is Petrov’s pupil too

Despite a tough season pole vaulter Monika Pyrek, 23, still won the title of best Polish Female Athlete in 2003. Her victory was gained thanks to her bronze medal in Birmingham’s World Indoor Championships in March 2003 - at which she jumped 4.45m - and her fourth place in the World Championships in Paris (equal with Stacy Dragila) after clearing 4.55 on her third attempt.

Tough start in the Pole Vault

Pyrek’s athletics career began at school when Boguslawa Klimaszewska a jumping events coach replaced her usual P.E. teacher, and he asked the best pupils to come to the nearby athletics club. Before that day Pyrek had been playing in the school volleyball and basketball team but with the change of teacher she began training for the High Jump. In those early days there was no way to induce her to do the Pole Vault, after she sustained lots of bruises after her first tentative attempt.

However, after a year at high jumping the influence of the best Polish Pole Vault coach Edward Szymczak finally persuaded her to take up the event, and led to her first national record on 18 May 1996, a height of 3.20m after just a year of training. Pyrek  owes a lot to the charismatic Szymczak, the famous coach of Olympic champion Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz and the Kolasa’s brothers.

Record number of Polish records and (almost) one European

Later Pyrek was to break Polish records very often. Her last outdoors – set on 23 August 2002 in London was her 40th outdoor. No other Polish athlete has set so many records in one event. Unfortunately she could not be pleased with her European record of 4.61 obtained during the National Championships on 1 July 2001 in Bydgoszcz. It was the best ever European outdoor result, but some time earlier the EAA began considering indoor results which were better than their outdoor equivalent, as the official record (as the IAAF does worldwide).

Pyrek achieved her biggest international success so far at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton winning the bronze medal with the result of 4.50m.

After the Olympic Games in Sydney the previous year she had been training more often with Vyacheslav Kalinichenko, Ukrainian assistant of Szymczak, and when Kalinichenko was offered a job in Szczecin she also decided to move.

Studies on hold for the Olympic Games 

After last summer’s Paris World Championships she decided not to undertake the last year of studies at the faculty of Law and Public Management of Gdansk University, instead concentrating only on her preparations for the Olympic Games.

However she is preparing a very interesting MA thesis entitled “Law and administrational problems of fighting against doping in sport.” She has also already met some law problems successfully receiving 5000 Euros for illegal usage of her image on a calendar advertising engine oil.

Petrov’s advice

Last year was the first one, in which Pyrek did not better her personal best, so Kalinichenko decided to ask advice from his famous compatriot, Vitaliy Petrov, Sergey Bubka’s trainer. Petrov was firmly in his mind last summer because of course in Paris he had guided Italy's Giuseppe Gibilisco to the men’s World Championship title.

In November, Pyrek spent three weeks in Formia (ITA), having had first consultations with Petrov who at the moment has under his guidence Gibilisco along with Viktor Chistiakov of Australia and the talented Belgian Kevin Rans who are training in Spala, which is set in the Polish woods.

Petrov when asked about Pyrek’s vaulting future said he could dramatically improve her technique. It will require arduous and systematic work but after stabilizing her technique she could be jumping even more than 4.80m. Petrov assesses this process will take between two to three years.

Improvement this winter

Comparing her late January form this winter with last year Pyrek is very pleased. She improved her speed and is able to jump with her full run-up whereas last year she could not do that until February. Good technique and speed must be the advantages for Pyrek, as she is less supple then her rivals (many of whom came from gymnastics), also she is not very strong physically.

Petrov has his own thoughts on the matter of women jumping 5 metres.

“If there will be an athlete with the physical conditions of Irena Szewinska or Heike Drechsler, it will not take long before a woman deals with this height,” Petrov said.

Pyrek added that this athlete would need to begin her career in the discipline at an early age and that the first coach would need to be Petrov.

There is no doubt that after the first consultations Pyrek has much confidence in Petrov.

Asked about who will be the best pole vaulters in the Olympic year both Pyrek and Petrov back the Russians – Svetlana Feofanova, Tatyana Polnova and Yelena Isinbayeva. Pyrek considers the latter as the best, but also adds that women’s Pole Vault has not yet found its “Bubka” right now.

Pyrek does not speak loud either about her medal chances nor the bettering of national records.

“I’ll be breaking only my personal bests – it’s less stressful”. Her fans hope it will take place in Budapest during the World Indoor Championships and especially in August in Athens.

Two records in five indoor competitions

In this season her first indoor start took place in Stuttgart, where she was 5th among the world's best pole vaulters.

A week later in the Spala sports hall, which is her winter home, she bettered the Polish record by 1 cm. The previous one had given her a bronze medal of the European Indoor Championships in Vienna in 2002.

“I like to jump fast, not waiting long between attempts.” She began with 4.30, when all other competitors failed to clear their heights.

Yet in Donetsk – Bubka’s town – she wasn’t jumping so good. Behind Yelena Isinbayeva’s records - 4.81 and 4.83 - Pyrek was fourth along with her compatriot Anna Rogowska (both jumped 4.52), who set her personal best. They both also failed to clear 4.62.

National record

The women’s Pole Vault was to be one of the most exciting events of the Polish Championships. The spectators expected a hard battle between Pyrek and Rogowska. Anna was first, as Pyrek had failures at 4.30 and 4.50, but later she was to jump 4.60, and then 4.65, so bettering also her Polish outdoor record (4.62).

"In Budapest I’ll fight for a medal"

After the Polish Championships Monika gave lots of interviews.

“It’s a pity that in Budapest there won’t be the Russian, Polnova and the injured German, Becker. I’d like to stand on the podium after fighting with the best. Feofanova, Isinbayeva, Pyrek, that order would certainly satisfy me.”

“I’ll begin with 4.30, then 4.50, bigger heights will depend on other jumpers, their jumps and the tactics I’ll choose with my coach.”

Pyrek’s last competition before Budapest proved her top form. In Chemnitz she won jumping 4.60m. She unsuccessfully tried to clear 4.70, not for the first time – maybe she will be able to do it in Budapest.

Pyrek emphasizes that many people have influence in her successes. Thanks to Bubka’s coach – Vitaliy Petrov – she concentrates more on the gymnastic preparation. Before the outdoor season begins, Pyrek is going to visit Formia twice, for more consultations with the coaching legend.

10th World Indoor Championships in Athletics, Budapest:
the Women's Pole Vault begins on Friday 5 March....