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Polish Olympic Team - Vancouver 2010

On 12-28 February 2010, the Canadian cities of Vancouver, the neighbouring Richmond and the resort municipality of Whistler, which is a bit over 100 km away, will host the participants of the already 21st Winter Olympic Games. The hosts did their utmost to ensure their guests best possible conditions. All the sport venues were ready a year ahead of the Olympics. They also passed the first tests, primarily during the World Cup competitions and the world championships.

For the first time in history, the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games will be held in a closed-roof stadium. The events will be watched by almost 60,000 spectators from the stands of the grand BC Place stadium at the centre of the capital of British Columbia. The organisers hope to attract a large number of audiences also to the medal presentation ceremonies, to be scheduled late in the evening, at the stadium and at a special square in the centre of Whistler. Both the stage setting of these ceremonies and of the events will definitely feature three friendly animals that inhabit the legends of Canada - Sumi, Migi and Quatchi - who are also the official mascots of the Games. The logo of the 2010 Winter Games - selected in a huge competition - is modelled after a traditional stone sculpture of Inukshuk, which is seen to resemble a hockey player.

The history of the Winter Olympic Games is only a bit shorter than the history of the Summer Games in modern times. For the first time, the Winter Olympic Games were held in Chamonix, France, in January and February 1924. They were then held as the International Winter Sports Week events, and were officially proclaimed the First Winter Olympic Games only a year later. The Polish national team, present at the competition among 16 national teams, consisted of nine sportsmen only and achieved no outstanding results. Successive Winter Olympic Games brought Poland similar results. Even when Poland fielded more numerous national teams at the Winter Olympics, inclusive of world famous sportsmen, the way to the podium was still too steep. This continued until 1956, when Franciszek Gąsienica-Groń won the bronze medal in Nordic Combined in Cortina d'Ampezzo - a historic first medal for Poland in the Winter Olympics. It also turned out to be one of the few medals for Poland in the Winter Olympics for a long time. Four years later in Squaw Valley, the medal tally of Polish winter athletes increased by two medals that were won by speed skaters, Elwira Seroczyńska (silver) and Helena Pilejczyk (bronze). Twelve years later, an unexpected victory by ski jumper Wojciech Fortuna in Sapporo boosted the hopes of Polish sport fans. It was truly sensational! Unfortunately, no gold medal has been won by Poles in the Winter Olympics ever since. However, Polish sportsmen brought home other Olympic medals. In 2002, Adam Małysz won silver and bronze medals in an outstanding fashion in Salt Lake City. In 2006, at the following Winter Olympics in Turin, Tomasz Sikora came second in 15 km mass start biathlon race, as Justyna Kowalczyk won the bronze medal in 30 km free cross-country ski race. Just within the last two Winter Olympics, Poland's Olympic medal tally in winter sports doubled.

At present, sports commentators and fans see the Salt Lake City and Turin medalists as prospective winners in the upcoming event in Canada. Such expectations are justified by the performance of Polish sportsmen in the last pre-Olympic season. Justyna Kowalczyk's results were particularly impressive. In successive World Cup competitions, she made it to the podium several times to finally claim the World Cup overall title. Kowalczyk was also the biggest star at the World Championships in Liberec, the Czech Republic, where she won three medals: two golds - in ladies' 15 km pursuit (7.5 classic + 7.5 free) and 30 km free, and one bronze in 10 km classic. Kowalczyk has started the current season promisingly, and the manner in which she wins excites admiration. Everybody looks forward to her performance at the Winter Olympics, especially as she already tested the Whistler courses in World Cup competitions a year earlier. She won a 15 km (7.5+7.5) pursuit race, though later she admitted that the local cross-country venue was? too easy. Tomasz Sikora has also tested the Whistler courses- the Polish biathlete came eleventh and fifteenth during World Cup competitions. It is worth mentioning that these are top ranking positions, and Sikora finished second in the World Cup classification in the pre-Olympic season. Adam Małysz already got acquainted with ski jumping hills in Whistler (in 2009, he finished 8th and 4th). With this in mind we can expect good results at the upcoming Winter Olympics.

We have mentioned the best known Polish winter athletes, who are medal hopefuls of our Winter Olympic team. We also look forward to the successful performance by the remaining members of the team - in Vancouver Poland fields a team of a few dozen sportsmen, including female cross-country and Alpine skiers, male ski jumpers, snowboarders and speed skaters (let's hope they will be the fastest ones) and figure skaters. Polish sportsmen competed for their places on the Polish Olympic team, which required the fulfilment of the Polish minimum performance criteria (more restrictive than the international ones), almost until their departure for Canada. Poland has never been and still is not a power in winter sports. Nevertheless, we have every right to expect an ambitious performance, new personal and national records and sportsmanlike conduct from Polish winter athletes who are the Olympic team members. Despite sleepless nights, at home the sports fans will surely keep their fingers crossed.

Henryk Urbaś
Polish olympic committee