From a gold-winning triple-jumper dubbed the Silesian Kangaroo through to a gold-smuggling discuss thrower in WWII, a new mural pays homage to 100 years of sporting legends
Celebrating 100-years of Polish athletics, a new mural presenting the nation’s track-and-field legends has been unveiled in Warsaw’s Mokotów district.
Created with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage as well as the National Center for Culture, the 460 sq/m mural was executed by GoodLooking Studio, an agency famed for delivering some of the country’s best-known large-format artworks.
Unveiled in the presence of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and National Heritage, professor Piotr Gliński, the politician said: “It is difficult to hide your emotions when you see these images of our outstanding athletes and recall their triumphs and the emotions they aroused at the time.”
“Thanks to initiatives such as this, future generations will be able to learn about the great history of Polish sport and be drawn closer to its history.”
Found on the wall of ul. Orzycka 25, and visible from the top of Galeria Mokotów, the mural was painted over the course of eight days and depicts twenty-six medallists that helped shape the face of Polish sport.
Rafał Miastowski, the Mayor of Mokotów, said: “Some of these athletes are directly associated with this area – some trained here, others lived here. This mural offers a specific lesson in the history of sport, and everyone viewing it can check for themselves how many figures they can recognize.”
Featuring a medley of household names, that number is likely to be large.
However, for those less familiar with Poland’s sporting glories the country’s athletics organization, the PZLA, have also launched an interactive version of the mural allowing visitors to their website to click on the depicted figures and follow links to their biographies.
Not short on colourful stories, these champions include Władysław Kozakiewicz, a gold-winning pole-vaulter whose celebratory ‘up yours’ gesture towards the Russian crowd scandalized the 1980 Moscow Olympics and guaranteed his place in patriotic legend.
Spotlighting the role that women have played in the development of Polish sport, figures such as Halina Konopacka are also presented.
Shown wearing her trademark beret, Konopacka was more than a world record discus thrower – active in literary circles, Poland’s first Olympic champion was a highly regarded poet and writer. Moreover, when WWII broke out, she helped her husband, the former Minister of the Treasury, squirrel Poland’s gold reserve to France.
The patriotism of the athletes that are celebrated cannot be disputed, and that’s particularly true of Janusz Kusociński. Winning gold in the 10,000-metre dash at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, he was wounded twice during the 1939 Siege of Warsaw and later took part in underground activities.
Arrested by the Germans, he was tortured at the Gestapo’s notorious interrogation centre on Warsaw’s Al. Szucha before being executed in 1940 in the forests of Palmiry.
Neither is there a shortage of shocks and surprises. For instance, we learn that the sprinter, long jumper and multiple world record holder Stanisława Walasiewicz once staved off a thief on Warsaw’s Pl. Unii Lubelskiej by shooting him.
Ironically, fifty years later, she would see her luck reversed when she herself was shot and killed in 1980 in a store robbery that went awry. When an autopsy was conducted on her body, it was revealed she possessed a Y chromosome.
Sometimes verging on the unbelievable, the extraordinary lives of these heroes is arguably best encapsulated by Władysław Komar, a three-time Olympian shot-putter who led a swashbuckling dual-life as a prolific actor, cabaret star and rugby player. Later, in the 90s, he also ran for parliament as a member of the Polish Party of Beer Lovers.
Known as the Silesian Kangaroo, we learn that triple jumper Józef Szmidt (Gold medallist in 1960 and 1964) later retired to breed goats.
Andrzej Badeński, meanwhile, a gold-winning relay racer, stayed on in West Germany after being granted permission to visit the country to support Poland in the 1974 World Cup.
All but ‘disowned’ by Poland for this perceived act of anti-authoritarian treachery, Badeński subsequently attended film school in Nuremberg and forged a new career working as a sound engineer for West German TV.
Keeping relevant, the present day is also covered, and crowning the very top of the mural is none other than the so-called ‘Queen of Polish Sport’, Anita Włodarczyk.
Dominating her discipline for over a decade, and embodying all the Olympian sporting virtues, it is fitting that this triple Gold holder caps such a stirring work of art.