|Posted January 12, 2003|
Anna Wlodarczyk, 51, (shown competing at Orono 2002 nationals) has been able to maintain her slim shape and incredible fitness since competing for Poland in the 1980 Olympics. If not for politics, she would have been a favorite for gold in the long jump at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
gift to America: A
Wlodarczyk lives in Orange, California, a few blocks from where
she works as track and cross country coach at Chapman
It’s a small, private Division III school that offers no
scholarships. “Recruiting athletes to the sport is difficult because
we do not have track facilities,” says Wlodarczyk, pronounced
Wo-DAR-zhik. Just as modest, the coach shows up at masters meets large
and small, sprints down runways and dabbles in hurdles and heps. She
then quietly takes home gold medals in any event she tries. At 5-foot-9
and 120 pounds, she’s in great shape. And clearly she’s
world-class in her W50 age group. But she doesn’t flaunt her achievements. In fact, she was a Polish Olympian and friends with some
of the legends of her generation, including Irena Szewinska. Her 1980
long jump competition, in fact, was judged among the top
100 of the century. This is
her first online interview, conducted in December 2002.
By Ken Stone
In the 1980 Moscow Olympics,
you were robbed of a medal in the long jump.
Tatyana Kolpakova of the
Soviet Union was red-flagged for a foot foul, but the Soviet judge
changed his mind and raised a white flag. Polish officials refused to
make an appeal on your behalf, and she went on to win gold. How
different would your life be today had you won bronze instead of
taking fourth at Moscow?
Wlodarczyk: I do not think life would be different today because
of what happened in the Moscow
Olympics. Sports taught me how to deal
with defeat and how to look towards the future for the next
opportunity to win. Two weeks after the Olympics I beat Tatyana
Kolpakova in Nice,
France, and that summer I won the all
track meets in Europe.
your countryman Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz won the pole vault in 1980, he
gave the European version of the “up yours” salute to the jeering
Moscow crowd. Was he doing it on your behalf as well?
Kozakiewicz, Jacek Wszola
(Montreal gold, Moscow bronze high jumper) and I had
spent a lot of time together before the Olympic Games in 1980. We were
the top-ranked athletes in the world and the Polish Track and Field Association
created the best conditions for us for training, rest and
proper nourishment. The last camp before Moscow the three of us and
our coaches spent in the Italian Alps at an altitude of 1200m. I knew
that Wladek was in great shape and with a
little luck he could win the Olympics. The pole vault requires full
concentration and cooperation from the audience and Wladek could not
get that understanding from the crowd. This salute was a symbol of his
winning despite difficulties. It can happen anywhere that
audiences do not know how to behave. The best method is to separate
yourself from the noise and interference.
1984, Poland joined the Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles Games and
prevented you from competing in the Olympics, where the winning long
jump matched your personal record. Then you beat the world’s best in
Europe that summer and your national team (sport authorities)
suspended you from unauthorized trips and competitions. You left for
Holland, according to one account. What prompted you to move on to
America? When did you arrive?
1984, after three hard years of training and dedication, I had the
next chance to win an Olympic medal. I was a better long jumper than I
was in 1980. I set the Polish national record of 6.96m and was ready
to go to L.A. A month before the Los Angeles Olympics – with my
uniform in hand and bags packed -- the Polish Olympic Committee
announced on TV that Poland would not take part in the Olympic Games.
Understandably I was a little bitter. I said to myself
“I worked for so many years for this and they didn’t give
me a second chance.” After the OG, the USA athletes and the other nations
medalists came to Europe to the few track meets that we call today the
Euro Circuit. The first one was in Budapest, Hungary. The Polish
national team could go to this meet, but we were not permitted to go
to western Europe. I won the long jump in Budapest and beat Carl
Lewis’ sister Carol with the result of 6.81m. A lot of top-ranked
athletes came to Budapest. I watched the wonderful races with Carl
Lewis and Florence Griffith Joyner.
decided that I would go with them to the other track meets in western
Europe. I was in excellent form and I wanted to prove it. Yes! I beat
the world’s best in Europe that summer and when I came back to
Poland I found out that a few of us were suspended for unauthorized
trips. I’ve tried to explain to the sports authorities and the press
that I was getting married to a Dutch citizen and that I was traveling
with him to the track meets. But it did not help! At that point I was
33 years old and I thought that 14 years on the polish national team
was a long time and I should finish my sports career and start a
family. My last track meet was in February 1985 at the polish indoor
nationals, where I won the national title and stepped
took me five more years to decide on what to focus my life on to
fulfill my dreams. I was a teacher at that time at the Academy of
Physical Education in Warsaw/Poland (19
years) and at that point I wanted to dedicate my life towards research
and teaching. I had completed my doctorate dissertation in physical
education and I thought about continuing my research on the proper
selection of talented children for track and field.
In this way I also became a coach.
In 1989 I was with my university women’s and men’s track and field team in Heidelberg, Germany. My athletes won the competition against six nations and I got a lot of recognition as a woman coach. At that meet there were a few athletes from Azusa Pacific University, California, and they invited me to coach them for the Olympics, 1992 in Barcelona. I arrived in California on November 2, 1991. I was delighted with the sunny, warm weather (in November it was already cold in Poland) and wonderful facilities at APU and Citrus College. Meeting the top-ranked track athletes at APU made me feel great and I decided to settle in to stay.
your experience with Polish track authorities, why have you kept your
Polish citizenship? Do you intend to become a U.S. citizen eventually?
experience with the Polish track authorities has nothing to do with my
move to America. I wanted to experience something new in life, learn
something and this is why I decided to take a chance. I met wonderful
people here in California and got a great opportunity for further
development. Yes, I intend to become a U.S. citizen, but this is a
long process and I have been following the steps that INS requires me
to take. From the participation point of view, I do not want to change
my nationality and I will represent my old country in the
you know Irena Szewinska very well? If so, have you stayed in touch
with her? Would you encourage her to try masters track?
I know Irena Szewinska very well. Irena was always my idol -- a
wonderful athlete. I wanted to follow and be like her one day. She was
one of the best athletes ever in the history of the Olympics. Irena
was in five Olympics (1964-1980) and she is still known in Poland as
“the Queen of the track.” In Tokyo OG as an 18-year-old she won
three medals -- a gold in the 4x100 relay,
and two silvers in the 200m and long jump. She held the Polish record until 1980
the track meet in 1973 in Warsaw, I beat her in the long jump and
since then I was the No. 1 one long jumper for the next 13 years.
After the Munich Games in 1972, Irena made a decision to compete in a
new event – the 400m. With her natural speed, she soon became the
first woman to run the 400 under 50 seconds. Irena is the president of
the Polish Track and Field Association and a member of
the Polish Olympic Committee.
I have stayed in touch with her. We spent time together at a New
Year’s Eve party in 1999/2000 in the Tatra Mountains, Poland. I
tried to encourage her to compete in masters track, but she is too
busy with her work and family life (she has two sons). She is working
out on a regular basis to stay in shape and feel good.
track and field Olympians compete into their 50s. What motivates you?
That is true. Not too many Olympians want to sacrifice their whole life towards hard workouts which are demanding if you decide to stay at the top!
My life has had many hurdles (no pun intended) and one was the breakup with my Dutch fiancé in 1984 one month prior to our wedding. After going through that major disappointment in my life, I decided to focus again on track and field and put my personal life on hold. The years have flown by and I have the time to compete now into my 50s. Unfortunately, a husband and children, are not sharing my time with my sports career. If "Mr. Right" comes along one day, things may change, but for now I divide my time between my profession as a teacher/coach and my track career.
Injuries are the other aspect which eliminates athletes from participation in sports. There are several reasons why I am motivated to compete. One of them is my profession as a coach.
From the beginning of my stay in the U.S.,
I was working with college student-athletes, and the best way to grasp
their attention (with lack of English language skills) was to show
them drills and be in good shape. My first
workplaces, Azusa Pacific
and Citrus College, gave me a lot of
experiences. There I met some wonderful people. One of them, Lloyd
Higgins (M60, great discus thrower) told me that the best way to mark
my presence in this country is to compete and be recognized
by the track and field community. A few days after my arrival he
handed me the National Masters News and encouraged
me to compete. I did not
have funds to do this at that time, but I borrowed the money from my
friend and flew to Spokane to compete
in the U.S. nationals 1992. I won a few of the events
with very good results and set that year
two world records for the W40 age
group. Since that year until 2001 I was competing sporadically (only
the nationals and Buffalo worlds) because I was too busy with
my work and assimilation into the new environment.
motivation to participate in masters track came from other masters
American athletes. I admire a few of them
that I met for their passion,
enthusiasm, dedication and love of
track and field. Getting older is not easy to accept and the preparations
for the nationals or World Championships takes a lot of
effort. The body does not recover as fast
from the workout like it did 20 years ago, and it is easy to get
injured. Masters athletes who decide to
compete in track are winning something more than a medal!
my perspective, I believe I made a good choice to be physically
active. I feel great mentally and physically -- and with a
careful approach, a little knowledge and attention to what my body is
telling me, I can overcome many problems as
I age. I am so enthusiastic about this discovery that you can postpone
the process of getting older that I shared
the news with my students and athletes.
Every day I am trying to encourage them to take an action and stay in
shape for the rest
of their lives.
had some tight races with masters Hall of Famer Phil Raschker at the
2002 Orono masters nationals -- beating her in the pentathlon hurdles
but barely losing in the open race. Phil competes in the W55 group and
you are in W50. What is Phil’s secret for such incredible dominance?
met Phil for the first time in Turku,
Finland, during the World Masters Championships in 1991 and
since then I admire her as an athlete and a very friendly woman. She
is so enthusiastic about our sport that a lot of us are inspired by
her. For the past 15 years she was always a top-ranked athlete in the
world in a lot of events. Her secret?
I can only assume with my sport-life experiences that hard
work, discipline, commitment, consistency and good nutrition let her
achieve this kind of amazing effect.
competed in an era when East German and Soviet sports machines drugged
their athletes. Were you aware at the time that some of your rivals
had an unfair advantage? Are you in touch with any of these former
East Bloc athletes today?
I was aware of the power of East Germany in sports. Watching their
athletes at the meets I got some idea of the direction E. German
scientists went to get such an incredible results.
No! I was never in touch with the East German athletes. During the
track meets in East Germany, I did not have a chance to get any info
about the way they train. The door of DHFK facilities in Leipzig and
Berlin were closed to us. It was a different
story with the Soviet athletes -- they use to come to our Olympic
Centers for 2-3 week camps and trained with us.
No. 1 component and strength of the East Bloc success in sports was their
perfect organization, selection and hard work. We used to train
3-4 times per day. The sports authority gave the top-ranked athletes
the opportunity to focus only on sports and we spent long weeks at the
camps in Warsaw, Spala and Zakopane. Polish Olympic Centers were open
for athletes from all over the world and we trained together.
belonged to the athletes who had aspirations to achieve something more
then a sport-career. After I got my master’s degree in physical
education from the Warsaw Academy of Physical Education, I decided to
continue my career at my alma mater as a teacher and researcher.
During all these years of central training and camps, I did not feel
any pressure from the coaches or medical staff to use
illegal drugs. Only basic
multivitamin-mineral supplements were given to us at the camps.
you competed for Poland at the Brisbane WMA world meet, did you
teammates treat you with any special deference because you had been to
the Olympic Games?
I did not see any special deference. My Polish and American teammates
have some respect for my accomplishments as an Olympian, but I see
them as a group of wonderful people who have something unique to offer
me. I am inspired by a lot of them and this mutual admiration
keeps us going and enjoying track.
set world records in the W40 and W50 triple jump and have won several
world WMA titles. Do you masters honors mean as much as your awards
during your elite career?
awards I get as a master athlete today have a different meaning for me
than 20-30 years ago. It is a mixture of triumph that my body still
cooperates with me and a mental and physical high.
June 2002, you won age group USATF National Masters Heptathlon
Championships in Trenton, New Jersey, with the highest score (5,990)
of all women competing, including Phil Raschker. Is this your best
event of the future? Are you shooting for Phil’s W50 record of 6,469
do not know. It depends on how much time I have left to focus on my
own training. My priority is my job as a coach and a
teacher at Chapman University. Coaching cross country and track and
field teams takes a lot of my time and energy.
Because of being new in this country, every day I face
challenges and tasks I have to perform first, before I do my own
training. Heptathlon requires a big volume of training and I don’t
want to push beyond my limits and lose the control over other
you related to Poland’s Urszula
Wlodarczyk, who was fourth in the
1996 and 2000 Olympic heptathlons? If yes, do you consult her for
is somehow related to me, but I did not have a chance to talk to her
about it. She was naturally a much stronger athlete than me and
heptathlon was the perfect match for her. I did not see her competing
this year. I can assume that she finished her sports career.
Chapman University, you’ve been coach of the
cross country teams and women’s track teams for about 10 years. What
do your athletes think of your masters achievements? Do you train with
men’s and women’s cross country team totals
15-20 people and the women’s track and field program is also small.
My athletes know that I am a good athlete and that I am enthusiastic
to have them. I train with them every day and I inspire them somehow!
Usually I tell them: “We don’t have facilities, but if I can do it
and win at age 51 you can do it too!”
I also have a great support from the head coach, Al Siddons,
at Santa Ana College. He allows me to use his all-weather track for my
own and my athletes workouts. Thanks to
people like Al, I can feel that we can accomplish something and keep
track and field alive.
also are listed in tennis results on the Web. How do this sport complement your masters track career?
I am playing tennis for fun. I am
a member of the Polish Tennis Club in Southern California. I am also
involved with the Helena Modjeska Art and
Culture Club. Meeting Polish people here in California has a special meaning
for me. Most of the club’s members are unique, successful people and
socializing with them gives me a lot of pleasure.
The Modjeska Art and Culture Club invites
famous Polish people from all over the world to share their
accomplishments with us.
do you enjoy doing in your free time? Any other interests or hobbies
besides sports and coaching?
don’t have too much time left. If I have, I travel visiting my old
friends and meeting new ones all over the world. I am always curious
about the world and I love to read.
long will you continue competing? What are your goals for 2003, which
includes a world masters meet in Puerto Rico?
will compete as long as my body will allow me to do so and it will not
interfere with my job. I will focus mainly on the nationals and
worlds. If I am ready for these meets, I will participate. I do not
want the pressure and stress you have when
you represent your country and everybody counts on you and predicts
your sports future. As a masters athlete, I have the freedom to
compete if I feel like doing so.
I have goals for 2003. I have not competed indoors since 1985. I
always loved to run and jump in the nice Indoor facilities.
I will never forget my big win in the Europe Indoor Championships 1980 in Sindelfingen, West Germany. They had beautiful facilities, a great audience cheering Anke Weigt -- the German long jumper. The fight was back-and-forth and brought a lot of great moments. In the last jump, I got 6.74m (2 cm short of the indoor world record) the Polish indoor record and I beat Anke. I got a big bouquet of tulips and I was happy about my accomplishment. If I can find someone to cover the San Diego meet for me (I am in the middle of the track season), I will fly to Boston. I have also Puerto Rico in my plans and maybe Eugene nationals!