Polish sport in 2020: major successes despite COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 has dominated headlines in 2020. It also led to the cancellation of many sports competitions. However, despite the obstacles, Polish athletes such as Iga Świątek, Robert Lewandowski, Jan Błachowicz, Bartosz Zmarzlik and others, managed to excel in their respective disciplines.

Polish athletes declare preparing for postponed Olympic Games

Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee and Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan announced on Tuesday that the 2020 Olympic...

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Pandemic not merciful on sport

On January 1, sports fans still believed that 2020 would see two major events: the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, and UEFA Euro 2020 that were to be held in a total of twelve cities. COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans and led to the postponement of both events to 2021. Many other sports competitions have been either postponed or cancelled.

Nearly all European leagues in most disciplines were suspended for some time, with only the Belarusian league available for viewing, as the regime in Minsk did not decide to put it on hold to prevent the coronavirus’s spread.

During the first lockdown, many athletes were forced to work from home just like millions of ordinary people all over the world. Clubs supplied them with machines and accessories to work out, while coaches ran online training sessions.

For a short while over the summer, fans were allowed to attend stadiums in some countries. In Poland the percentage allowed was systematically increased and finally reached 50 percent of the venues’ capacities. However the autumn wave of the pandemic put an end to this. Athletes and staff are tested on a regular basis and have to follow strict sanitary regulations.

Despite the enhanced safety measures, many athletes contracted the virus, including such stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Kevin Durant. Some recognised Polish athletes and coaches also got infected, including coach of the national football team Jerzy Brzęczek, Adam Małysz (former top ski jumper and currently an activist of Polish Ski Federation), skier Andrzej Bargiel or members of the Polish football national team, including Bartosz Bereszyński, Maciej Rybus, Sebastian Szymański and Piotr Zieliński. Many matches of the league competitions had to be postponed because the coronavirus spread among teams. In the autumn the situation has not changed, sport events are organised, but under very strict rules.

Lewandowski world’s leading player: FIFA Best Awards 2020

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Football: Lewandowski reaching cosmic level

This was the year of one player: Robert Lewandowski. And this sentence does not concern only Polish football. The striker of FC Bayern Munich and Poland’s national team had the best year in his career, full of successes and especially goals. With Bayern, he won the German league and cup, and, above all, the UEFA Champions League. “Lewy” was also the best goal scorer of all those competitions. It cannot be a surprise that he was chosen UEFA player of the year, won many other awards and nominations. He was the front-runner to win the “France Football” Ballon d’Or trophy but the French journal decided not to give this award for 2020. In December the Polish striker was chosen FIFA’s player of the year, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Lewandowski was also the pillar of the Polish national team. After UEFA Euro 2020 was postponed to 2021, the only tournament for national teams was the UEFA Nations League. Poland was drawn to a difficult group with the Netherlands, Italy and Bosnia & Herzegovina. The competition took place in the autumn, Poland was no match to “Oranje” and “Squadra Azzurra” but managed to defeat the Bosnians. Poles came in third in the group and secured a place in Division A of the Nations League.

However, very uneven performance in this tournament aroused controversies about the position of Mr Brzęczek. The captain of the team fuelled the fire by a widely-discussed interview for the public broadcaster TVP in which Lewandowski seemed to criticise the tactical background of the coach. Although both gentlemen deny any kind of conflict between them, the discussion is still ongoing. In December, Poland was drawn in group I of the preliminary stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The rivals of the Poles will be England, Hungary, Albania, Andorra and San Marino. The first matches of the qualifications are scheduled to take place in March.

Polish clubs did not show too much quality in the European competitions. Only Lech Poznań, the runner-up of the Polish Ekstraklasa, managed to qualify to the Group stage of the UEFA Europa League. Its rivals were Portuguese SL Benfica, Scottish Rangers FC and Belgian Standard Liege. The Polish team did not make it to the next round, finishing the group in fourth position, with only three points. Lech won one match against Standard (3:1 at home) and lost five others. Legia Warsaw, the champion of Poland, failed to qualify to both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, KS Cracovia and Piast Gliwice were also knocked out in preliminary rounds.

Iga Świątek makes history winning the French Open

Polish tennis prodigy, Iga Świątek became the first Pole to win a singles Grand Slam title. The 19-year-old won in a never seen before historic...

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Tennis: Świątek not a prodigy anymore

Although tennis is often considered an elite sport, this year it has reached all sports fans in Poland. All thanks to young, only 19-years-old Iga Świątek. The Polish player, who won junior Wimbledon in 2018, was unstoppable during the French Open tournament and became the first Polish tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title.

In June, in an interview with Poland IN, Świątek expressed hope that tennis competitions in 2020 would return with the French Open. And when they finally did, she proved her readiness to compete with the best players and defeat them.

Świątek started the tournament in Paris by defeating Markéta Vondroušová of the Czech Republic, then she won against Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan, Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, Simona Halep of Romania, Italian player Martina Trevisan and Argentinean Nadia Podoroska on her way to the final. There she faced and defeated Sofia Kenin of the US. Świątek did not lose a single set in all the matches during the French Open. Moreover, she also made it to the semi-finals of the doubles tournament.

Such a good performance over this unusual season lifted Iga Świątek to third place on the list of WTA top earnings of 2020. In December, she was also named WTA Most Improved Player of the Year, while her coach, Piotr Sierzputowski received the award of WTA Coach of the Year.

Other Polish tennis players did not achieve such major successes, but they marked their presence. Before the pandemic, young Weronika Baszak made it to the final of the junior Australian Open and Magda Linette won the WTA Thailand Open tournament.

Ski jumping: Kubacki wins 68th Four Hills Tournament

Dawid Kubacki won the General Classification of the Four Hills Tournament after finishing first in the fourth round of the competition, held in...

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Ski Jumping: Four Hills for Kubacki, bronze flying team

In the break of 2019 and 2020, at a time when the coronavirus was considered a local problem in China, the traditional ski jumping Four Hills Tournament took place on two German and two Austrian venues. The winner of the competition was Poland’s Dawid Kubacki.

The first competition took place in Oberstdorf, Kubacki was third, the winner was Japanese Ryoyu Kobayashi, and the runner-up - Karl Gieger representing the host nation. Fifth place was for Piotr Żyła. The second phase took place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and again Kubacki finished on the lowest podium. This time the winner was Norwegian jumper Marius Lindvik, again ahead of Geiger.

Lindivk won the first contest in Austria, held in Innsbruck. Kubacki was the runner-up, while Geiger was only 8th. The third place this time was for Daniel Andre Tande of Norway.

Kubacki won the final event on the hill in Bischofshofen, and came in first in the whole Four Hills Tournament general classification. The 2019 world champion on the normal hill from Seefeld was ahead of Lindvik and Geiger. Kamil Stoch finished the competition in 13th place, and Piotr Żyła just behind him in 14th.

In December, when the second wave of the coronavirus was advancing around the world, the Polish team won a bronze medal in the Ski Flying World Championships held in Planica, Slovenia. Poles (Dawid Kubacki, Kamil Stoch, Piotr Żyła, Andrzej Stękała) lost to Germany and Norway.

In the individual competition in Planica, the Poles all finished in the TOP15, but were unable to win a medal. Żyła was 7th, Stoch took 8th place, Stękała finished 10th and Kubacki - 15th. The winner was Geiger, ahead of Halvor Egner Granerud from Norway and Markus Eisenbichler of Germany.

MMA: Błachowicz wins UFC Championship

MMA, mixed martial arts, have a degree of popularity in Poland, but not always due to the top fighters. Although competitions such as Martial Arts Confrontation (KSW) gather some audience, a significant number of Poles prefer the duels of celebrities, like those organised during very popular Fame MMA galas.

But winning the belt of the UFC, one of the top MMA organisations in the world, is not realistic for retired athletes or influencers whose recognition stems from their controversial behaviour. To win there, one has to compete with the best fighters in the world.

Jan Błachowicz of Poland was given such a chance. In September, he faced Dominick Reyes to fight for the title of UFC Light Heavyweight champion. The Pole, who was considered as an underdog by bookmakers and experts, defeated the American fighter and won the belt.

In December, Błachowicz celebrated another important achievement, as he became a father.

Speedway: Zmarzlik holds his nerves to retain world champ title

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Speedway: Zmarzlik retains world championship

Popular in only a handful of countries worldwide, speedway still remains one of the national sports in Poland, in some regions being nearly as popular as football. Stadiums before the coronavirus pandemic were full of supporters and the best drivers are considered real stars.

Bartosz Zmarzlik is the best example. The 2019 world champion and the top athlete in Poland in “Przegląd Sportowy” daily confirmed his quality in 2020.

He retained the title and became the first Pole to win the World Championship two years in a row. Only two other racers in the Grand Prix era have managed to achieve such a success: Tony Rickardsson and Nicki Pedersen.

Zmarzlik was also a member of the Polish national team that finished second in the Speedway of Nations competition, the World Team Cup. The Poles lost to Russia. Both teams gathered an equal number of points in the final tournament in Lublin, eastern Poland, but in the direct run, the Russians won 5:4, even though Zmarzlik won this race. Third place went to Denmark.

Polish Grandmaster ends world champion’s 125 game undefeated streak

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Chess: Duda’s Gambit?

One of the most popular TV series in 2020 was “Queen’s gambit” produced by Netflix and based on a book by Walter Tevis. It depicts the story of a young genius chess player Elisabeth Harmon, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Polish actor Marcin Dorociński.

Poland’s Jan-Krzysztof Duda may not yet have reached her level, but he has definitely proven that he is a talented player.

In May, the 21-year-old Pole defeated the world champion and the world ranking leader Magnus Carlsen of Norway in the seventh round of the second edition of the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge, a prestigious online chess tournament organised by the Norwegian grandmaster, considered the best player of the current generation.

Duda defeated Carlsen again, in October. This time they met face to face during Altibox Norway Chess in Stavanger. The Pole defeated him and ended his 125-game undefeated streak in classic games.

2021: hope for some normality?

The COVID-19 pandemic struck the whole world in 2020, including sports. The global economy and social life will still be affected by the virus over the upcoming year. On the other hand, the promising reports about vaccines give millions of people hope that things will return to some form of normality in the near future.

Polish fans will hope for a good performance from their football team in the EURO, however it will not be an easy task as the group rivals are Spain, Sweden and Slovakia. Promotion to the last sixteen is considered as an obligation for Mr Brzęczek’s team. After a year full of successes, all experts and fans wonder if Robert Lewandowski will be able to maintain such good performance in 2021.

Polish volleyball team enters Tokyo 2020 Olympics

The Polish men’s national volleyball team won 3:1 against Slovenia on Sunday in a qualification match for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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The Polish volleyball team is in an entirely different position before the Olympic Games . The incumbent world champions are considered the frontrunners for the gold medal. Poland has been awaiting success in the Olympic Games since 1976, when the Polish team won the tournament.

Among individual athletes, one of the favourites for a medal in Tokyo is hammer thrower Anita Włodarczyk, the incumbent Olympic Champion and the world record holder.

Many other Poles count on good performances in Japan - windsurfer Zofia Klepacka-Noceti, the Polish athletics team including hammer thrower Paweł Fajdek, veteran discus thrower Piotr Małachowski who intends to end his career after Tokyo, the female relay team 4x400m, sprinter Ewa Swoboda, cyclists Rafał Majka (bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016) and Michał Kwiatkowski (winner of this year’s Tour de France stage) and many others.

Tennis fans count on confirming the place of Iga Świątek in the elite, as well as for good performances from other players such as Magda Linette, Hubert Hurkacz and Karol Majchrzak.

And one cannot forget other upcoming sports events featuring Poles, such as the Nordic World Ski Championships in Oberstdorf and the World Men’s Handball Championship in Egypt.

But only time will tell how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the world in 2021, including sport competitions, which for many people all around the globe are equally important to political, cultural or economic events.