The pole vaulter who angered the Soviet Union: Who is Wladislaw Kozakiewicz?

Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz was one of the most extraordinary characters in Olympic history. His life, which started with one migration, continued with another migration. After realizing that he could not continue his career in his country, he immigrated to Germany. After competing for Germany for a while, he ended his career.

By Stephen McWright Published on 10 Temmuz 2024 : 14:55.
The pole vaulter who angered the Soviet Union: Who is Wladislaw Kozakiewicz?

He won the gold medal in the pole vault at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Moscow in the summer of 1980… The Olympic Disciplinary Committee is in a rush. One of the most political Olympic games in history is being held in Moscow. The boycott decision of 66 countries has already damaged the atmosphere of the Olympics. Now the Disciplinary Committee has to meet urgently. A business continues the same way it starts. The Olympics, which started with events, are no exception to this generalization.

The Soviets feel very angry, insulted, and hurt. They demand that the person who caused this situation be punished harshly. Juan Antonio Samaranch, who will be the President of the Olympic Committee for many years, does not agree with this. When the meeting of the Disciplinary Committee started, I did not know who intervened and how. However, the words that probably came out of his mouth were more or less something like this:

“Dear members, our topic is Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz…”

Wladyslaw was born in 1953 in Salcininkai - now in Lithuania, then part of the Soviet Union. In the post-war period, Wladyslaw's family could not decide exactly where to build their future. For the family of Polish origin, there seemed no other choice but to return to their homeland. So they did.

In 1958, they first found themselves in the refugee camp in Gryfice, Poland. Then, thanks to a job found by Wladyslaw's father, they went to Gdyna. The father, who used to be a tailor, was now working as a dock worker. The fate of family members would continue to change from now on.

When Wladyslaw was 14-15 years old, he began to show interest in pole vaulting with the encouragement of his older brother Edward. Realizing that he did not have much difficulty in this sport, Wladyslaw began to enjoy it and managed to attract the attention of coach Walenty Wejman. Working with Wejman sharpened Wladyslaw's skills. The athlete, whose development accelerated significantly, managed to become the champion in the open and indoor competitions in the Youth category in 1972.

A year later, he had to make a professional decision. Yes, it was in good shape. But in order to be much better, even the best, he had to change some things. Therefore, he decided to part ways with his coach Wejman. According to Wladyslaw, the person who would take him to the next level was Ryszard Tomaszewski.

This change quickly took effect and Wladyslaw managed to break the Polish record with 5.35 meters in the seniors. He returned from the European Championships in Rome with a silver medal around his neck. In the intervening year, he achieved third place in a European Indoor Tournament. Then he broke the European record with 5.60 meters. Now it was time for other things.

All well and good, Wladyslaw was jumping up and down, but deep down he felt something was missing. It was also an Olympic medal. He was now in shape to achieve this. He was very well prepared for the 1976 Montreal Olympics. However, sometimes all the preparations you made and all the effort you put in could collapse in an instant. Wladyslaw would also learn this through bitter experience.

Wladyslaw injured his leg during the warm-up jumps. He would continue the competition and finish the competition in 11th place with a time of 5.25 meters. Wladyslaw, who returned to the competitions three weeks after the unpleasant situation in Montreal, would get into trouble this time because of the shoes he wore in the competitions he participated in. Wladyslaw, who wore shoes supplied by his personal sponsor instead of the sponsor of the Polish Athletics Federation, was banned from competitions for six months by the federation. However, this punishment was not fully implemented. Thus, Wladyslaw had the opportunity to appear at the European Indoor Championships held in San Sebastian. It was good. This enabled him to win his first championship at the international level. Gaining momentum, Wladyslaw would win a European Indoor Championship and two Universiade Championships before reaching the next Olympics. Now it was time for the Olympics. The goal this time was to break the devil's leg instead of his own.

It may be an exaggeration to claim that the 1980 Moscow Olympics took place in a very peaceful and sportsmanlike environment. It wouldn't be wrong to say that dark clouds are hanging over the games, which were boycotted by 66 countries. Especially considering that during the competitions, there were stories about the host country's athletes being favored, that security measures were excessive, and that the spectators were, to put it mildly, distant from non-Soviet athletes, it can be seen that the organization has some shortcomings.

“When we reached the Olympic Village, I took a look around. There was a wire fence everywhere and soldiers were walking around. They were checking and searching everyone as if we were at the airport. Only athletes were already allowed into the Olympic Village. "I couldn't help but think, 'Who are they protecting us from?'"

When July 30, 1980, came, Wladyslaw was having difficulty controlling the stress of the raid. He thought the Russians were cheating and wouldn't let him win. He even said that he had seen with his own eyes a Soviet long jumper who had made three mistakes but was given a fourth try. According to him, the referees were also involved in this.

When Wladyslaw took to the track, he went to a completely different dimension. He cleared his mind of stress and focused only on the competition. He was successful in his first attempt at 5.65 meters. His biggest rival, Konstantin Volkov, was also the Soviets' hope in this competition. Only Wladyslaw stood in front of that hope.

Accompanied by the dissatisfied howls of the Soviet spectators, Wladyslaw went back to the track and set the bar at 5.70. He thought that if he could reach this level, he would win the competition. Because he was of the opinion that his rivals were not at that level. Wladyslaw began to run; he had a height to overcome, an opponent to defeat, and a crowd of spectators. The audience had their attention fixed on a single body as the pole lifted it skyward. That body first crossed the bar, then soared in the sky and fell to the ground. Wladyslaw had succeeded. He was now sure that he would become a champion. But nothing ended there. As soon as Wladyslaw rose from the ground, he turned to the Soviet audience and “saluted” them with a very unapproved arm gesture.

So was he satisfied with that? Of course not. The next time he was consolidating his championship, this time he exceeded 5.75 and repeated the same ritual. In the end, he broke the world record with 5.78. Since there were no big screens in the Lenin Stadium at that time, most of the audience could not see his move. Perhaps this situation prevented a huge outrage. But you, be you; Be careful with your movements in places where you think your photo may be taken.

Of course, photos of Wladyslaw's "iconic" gesture soon spread, and Soviet officials took great offense. Especially when an athlete from Poland, an Iron Curtain country, made such a move, it led them to impose some sanctions. They wanted to disqualify Wladyslaw from the games through the Olympic Disciplinary Committee. After a grueling process, this did not happen, thanks to the influence of Juan Antonio Samaranch. However, when Wlasdyslaw returned to his country, which was under Soviet influence at that time, he would not be welcomed by the sports administrators, and in the following periods he would be prevented from participating in competitions from time to time with various excuses. But that was okay, at least the people loved him. The famous movement, known as "bras d'honneur" in the world, would now be known as "Kozakiewicz" in its country. It doesn't compare to an Olympic medal, but this was another achievement that was engraved in public memory!

Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz was one of the most extraordinary characters in Olympic history. His life, which started with one migration, continued with another migration. After realizing that he could not continue his career in his country, he immigrated to Germany. After competing for Germany for a while, he ended his career.