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It was the throwers who provided most of the highlights of the Polish national championships over the weekend (15-17 June) in Bielsko-Biala.
Majewski and Wlodarczyk dominate
Tomasz Majewski with 21.07m in the Shot Put, Piotr Malachowski with 66.89m in the Discus Throw, as well as Hammer Throw specialists Pawel Fajdek (80.32m) and Anita Wlodarczyk (74.71m) all confirmed their Olympic medal aspirations with comfortable wins. The warm and sunny weekend offered particularly favourable conditions for sprinters. Among those who took the most advantage were the hurdler Artur Noga (13.38) and the 400m specialist Piotr Wiaderek (45.46).
Few surprises occurred in the throwing events, but plenty of excitement was generated by the performances of Poland’s top stars. The first of them to appear in the stadium on day one of the championships was Olympic champion Majewski.
Untroubled by his rivals, Majewski won his tenth national title with a solid series. After a foul in the first round, he took the lead with 20.52m with his second put and improved to 20.97m in round four. Not satisfied, he went even better with his final put, sending the steel ball flying to 21.07m. Damian Kusiak finished a distant second with 19.80m.
Competing on the same afternoon Wlodarczyk, the former World champion and World record holder, had as little trouble taking the title as Majewski. Despite the presence of Joanna Fiodorow, who had thrown over 74 metres this year, Wlodarczyk ended up with the six longest throws of the competition.
Her first throw of 72.91m would have easily sufficed to take the gold, but Wlodarczyk kept improving throughout, extending her lead with 73.95m in the third round and 74.71m in the fifth. Fiodorow had a consistent series of five throws over 69 meters and took the silver with 70.34m.
The men’s hammer competition the following day also went to form. Fajdek, the reigning European U23 champion, confirmed his position as the rising star of the event. He took his first national senior title with 80.32m, his third competition this year beyond 80 metres, and backed it up with another throw of 80.24m.
The 13-time national champion Szymon Ziolkowski did not give up without a fight. He came close to his season’s best with 78.25m in round two to take silver, confirming he is still a force to be reckoned with.
Neither did the men’s discus throw produce any shocks. Malachowski effectively ended the competition in the first round by reaching 66.89m. He was not able to improve further, but confirmed his dominance with three more throws beyond 64 metres.
Malachowski was joined on the podium by two other men who have achieved the Olympic A standard this year. Przemyslaw Czajkowski, who shocked by defeating Malachowski at the national championships a year ago, took the silver this time with 63.47m. Robert Urbanek finished in third place with 62.85m.
The experienced Igor Janik took the title in the javelin throw. Leading from round one, he had a good series crowned by 81.31m in the last round. With his performance, Janik guaranteed himself a place in the national team at the European Championships, but was still 69 cm short of Olympic qualification.
The most surprising result in the throws occurred on the final day in the women’s discus competition. The 40-year old Joanna Wisniewska started with a throw of 61.46m, and improved further to a season’s best of 61.92m in round four, a tantalizing 8 cm off the Olympic standard. The result was sufficient to give her a seventh national title, 17 years after her first win.
The pre-meet favourite Zaneta Glanc, fourth in the last two editions of the World Championships, did not have a good day by her normal standards. She started with two fouls, and was outside the top three until the last round, in which she reached 60.80m. This was enough to give her the runner-up position, ahead of Wioletta Potepa’s 59.56m.
Close battles on the track
The fast track in Bielsko-Biala and the excellent conditions led to an array of personal bests and fast times in the sprint events. The series started on day one with the 100m races. The women’s final was a close race, won by the experienced Daria Korczynska in 11.39, her fastest time in four years. Behind her, Marta Jeschke (11.42) and Marika Popowicz (11.43) also improved their season bests.
Popowicz took the 200m in a wind-aided 23.18 in yet another tight finish, ahead of Ewelina Ptak (23.26) and Anna Kielbasinska (23.29).
The men’s race was won by the favourite Dariusz Kuc in 10.20 ahead of the 200m specialist Kamil Krynski, whose 10.33 was a big personal best.
Krynski went even better the following day. In the heats of his favourite event, he ran hard until the finish line, stopping the clock in 20.56, a new personal best, and a mere 0.01 off the Olympic A standard.
In the final, however, he did not have it all his own way. Kuc started much faster, and was some two metres ahead coming into the straight. Krynski’s superior speed endurance showed in the final 50 metres and he caught the 100m champion at the finish line. The photo finish showed him as the winner in 20.57, while Kuc ran the fastest time of his career with 20.59.
The 400m specialists also took advantage of the conditions. Piotr Wiaderek battled through to take his first national title with a personal best of 45.46. The defending champion Marcin Marciniszyn finished 0.17 behind him in second place, and Kacper Kozlowski took the bronze with 45.89.
In the women’s one-lap final all three medalists set personal bests. It was Agata Bednarek who took the win in 52.41, followed by Iga Baumgart in 52.75 and Justyna Swiety 52.81.
Poland’s two top high hurdlers, Artur Noga and Dominik Bochenek, both ran hard in the heats. The former equaled his season’s best with 13.45, and the latter ran his fastest time of the year with 13.59. In the final, Olympic finalist Noga beat his rival easily, improving to 13.38, while Bochenek finished in 13.76.
Former World Championships medalist in the intermediate hurdles Marek Plawgo, coming back from a long series of injuries, planned to use the national championships as an opportunity to achieve the Olympic standard. His run in the heats took 49.66, 0.16 off the target. Plawgo went for it again in the final, but his chance was ruined by technical problems over the hurdles. He took the win easily, but the time was a slightly disappointing 49.96.
These performances, however, mean that Plawgo has earned himself a ticket to the European Championships and another opportunity to qualify for the Olympic team.
The women’s 400m Hurdles also featured an attempt at Olympic qualification. Tina Matusinska ran 55.92 in the heats, raising hopes she might be able to achieve the target of 55.50 in the final.
In that race, it was the veteran Anna Jesien, already qualified for London, who came through to take the win in 55.74. Matusinska improved her time to a personal best of 55.87 to take the silver, but like Plawgo she now has to hope to run faster at the continental championships.
Solid marks on the infield
The Pole Vault has been one of the strongest events in Polish athletics in recent years, but the competitions in Bielsko-Biala did not live up to that tradition. World champions Pawel Wojciechowski and Anna Rogowska both withdrew due to injuries. In their absence, the titles went to Lukasz Michalski (5.60m) and Monika Pyrek (4.45m), the latter winning her 11th title.
The other jumping events made up somewhat for this disappointment. In the high jump, Szymon Kiecana improved his career best by 3 cm to 2.28m and had one very close attempt at the Olympic A standard of 2.31m. That competition, however, was marred by an Achilles injury of former World Championship medalist Sylwester Bednarek, who had only recently come back to competition after a long layover.
20-year old Tomasz Jaszczuk came through on his very last attempt to become the national champion in the Long Jump. His result of 8.05m also qualified him for the European Championships. Poland’s top jumper of recent years, Marcin Starzak, had to abandon the competition due to injury.
Karol Hoffmann, son of the 1983 world champion, took the Triple Jump title with a surprising 16.98m. The distance represented a new personal best by 39 cm and the longest jump by a Pole since 1995. He, too, will go to the European Championships and will be hoping to improve further in a quest for making the Olympic team.
In the women’s Long Jump, Teresa Dobija was the victor with a season’s best 6.65, only 4 cm ahead of Anna Jagaciak.
The middle distance events produced several exciting races as well. The women’s 1500m featured the first appearance of the season by three-time Olympian Lidia Chojecka. She had a close-fought battle on the last lap with the fastest Pole this year, Renata Plis. In the end, however, Plis came through for a clear win in 4:06.96, 0.90 ahead of Chojecka, with 22-year old Katarzyna Broniatowska setting a personal best 4:08.32 in third.
In the men’s race, European indoor medalist Bartosz Nowicki produced an impressive finish to take the win in 3:38.93, a second ahead of the surprising silver medalist, 20-year old Bartosz Roszko, who broke 3:40 for the first time in his life.
In the absence of European champion Marcin Lewandowski, Adam Kszczot was the expected winner of the men’s 800m in 1:46.53, with a lifetime best of 1:47.16 for Szymon Krawczyk in second place.
The women’s two-lap final started fast, with Angelika Cichocka in pursuit of the Olympic qualifying standard. The first 400m took just 57.6. Cichocka held on for the win, but was not able to maintain the pace over the second half and finished in 2:01.71, ahead of former champion Ewelina Setowska-Dryk.
Both steeplechase races were won by athletes who have already qualified for the Olympic Games. Lukasz Parszczynski took the men’s race in 8:26.55 by over a second from Lukasz Oslizlo, and Katarzyna Kowalska prevailed among the women in 9:49.34, nearly 11 seconds ahead of another prospective Olympian Matylda Szlezak.