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28 października 2009 Redakcja Bieganie.pl Lifestyle

After a slow start, Polish running booms.


After a
slow start, Polish running booms

More
joggers on the streets but Poles lack contemporary running
heroes.

By Dominika Maslikowski, dpa


Warsaw
(dpa) – Jogging through a Polish park once meant getting weird looks or snide
comments. But now Poles are used to runners, and are more likely to ask how
they can join the group, said Katarzyna Marczynska of the Warsaw Marathon
Foundation.


Jogging is
still seen as strange for Poles in smaller cities and towns, but officials say
the last few years have seen a real boom for the sport amid increased
promotions and new events that target beginners.


„It’s
developing. You can see it year to year especially in the past few years,”
Marczynska said. „There’s a lot more runners on the streets and people
competing, and more runs that are a lot more popular.”


The Warsaw
Marathon took off in 2002 and each year has grown by 50 to 70 per cent,
Marczynska said. This year organizers estimate some 4,000 people will sign up,
compared to 2,600 that crossed the finish line in 2008.


Adam
Klein, editor of website bieganie.pl (running.pl),
said he recently gave up his day job to run the
website full-time as it’s grown by some 80,000 visitors monthly over 2007.


Klein said
jogging surged in popularity after Nike began organizing events like the Human
Race in 2008 that drew 15,000 runners. Klein said other Polish promoters saw
interest skyrocket after the big-name company got involved hosting events.


Running
clubs began launching nationwide in 2002, and encouraged many in small towns,
who were previously held back by shyness from becoming their town’s first
runner.


But though
jogging is now commonplace, today’s Nike-sponsored events are a far cry from
Poland’s first marathons, organized during the communist regime when running
was reserved for professionals training on stadium tracks.


Zbigniew
Zaremba, 78, is now editor-in-chief of Jogging magazine, and a former
professional runner with two Olympics under his belt.


He
remembers founding the capital’s first marathon in 1979, two years before
communist authorities would declare martial law to crack down on Lech Walesa’s
growing Solidarity labor union.


The authorities
had their suspicions because running – first made popular in the United States
– was a Western import. „Are
you sure there won’t be any counter-revolutions?,” the authorities asked
Zaremba’s colleague, suspicious because the mass event would see more than a
few people gather together in a public place.


But
despite the difficulties, earlier on the 1950s and 60s were the golden years of
Polish running, Klein said, when Poles earned the title of
„wunderteam” in 1957 from German journalists.


The name
was used to describe the country’s light athletics team from 1956 to 966, when
it won 8 gold metals at the European championships in 1958, and 7 gold metals
in Budapest in 1966.


In the
1980s came the first marathons for amateurs, and the sport took off two decades
later with marathons from big-name promoters.


Yet
Poland’s professional runners today are no match for the legends of the past.


The
country’s last great running hero was Bronislaw Malinowski, who won the gold
medal in the 3000 m steeplechase in Moscow’s 1980 Olympics.


And it’s
those kinds of running heroes that Poland needs to popularize the sport among
young people, like how ski jumper Adam Malysz or Formula 1 racer Robert Kubica
got youth interested in their own sports.


„With
a hero comes company interest,” Klein said. „We need to create our
national heroes … We have to do something so that the person running now will
want to train more.”