The sudden rise of Jerzy Janowicz into consciousness over the course of the past few days has highlighted the desire to see a genuine sporting hero emerge from Poland. For those not watching the news at some point in the past few days, Janowicz has risen from mild obscurity to find himself qualifying for the mens ATP tennis tournament in Paris. Simply qualifying would have been considered a huge success for someone ranked as number 221 in the mens world rankings as of one year ago. However, he then performed past any expectations to win five ties and qualify for the final, played today. In qualifying, he proved his potential by beating five players currently ranked in the top 20 of the world rankings. It was only after his quarter final win over Andy Murray though, that he rose to fame and began appearing as a noteworthy person on Polish news reports. Unfortunately, he suffered defeat today in the tournament final, losing in 2 sets to David Ferrer or Spain, but Janowicz’s joy in proceeding so far through the tournament was evident with each successive game.
The increase in interest through the week showed through his appearance on all of the news reports and sports bulletins, although the 21-year old probably had barely a mention before this. Interviews with parents, coaches and neighbours were all lined up in order to get the low-down on Jerzy and put the spotlight on him. He had some level of success as a junior player, but would expect a big jump in profile now following such success. However, the way in which it has affected life in Poland is interesting. A Yahoo! sports report published yesterday after his semi-final win indicated huge media following already
“Janowicz can now expect to attract some sponsors, especially since TV crews have been besieging his house in Poland. “The street next to my house actually is completely blocked. There is like about nine or 10 cars, TVs, and it’s completely blocked. There is no way to get to my house right now,” Janowicz explained.”
The above seems to highlight the need in Poland to find and hold onto a sporting hero, usually in a sport which is individual. In recent years, the focus has hopped between a few various contenders for the crown of Poland’s most beloved sportstar.
- For some time, that seemed to be Adam Małysz. In the winter of 2001/02, the Wisła Eagle, as he was known came to prominence through wins in ski-jumping competitions, and became a household name and top contender easch season. He had a strong following, but as success tailed off after the 2006/07 season, he seemed to lose his edge. However, a strong finish gettgin solver in the 2010 Winter Olympics and more success before his retirement in 2011 meant he left well-loved.
- Justyna Kowalczyk is another name seen as being well recognised across winter sports, with her having the all time record of 10 wins in the Tour de Ski cross-country competitions. She has a hugely impressive record, but has not always gotten the recognition for it, as her style her been based more on power rather than grace which many other skiers use. However, her popularity in Poland has lead to recognition and advertisement for a bank among others.
- Robert Kubica displayed natural ability for motor racing from an early age, and with success in Formula Renault series, it seemed inevitable for him to move to Formula 1 racing. He built up experience through 2006 and 2007, which then culminated in a race victory in the Canadian Grand Prix of 2008. He continued to progress through 2009 and 201o, getting 7 further podium finished after his win. However, his crash in early 2011 while rally driving in Spain has resulted in him missing 2 seasons of Formula 1 , and there are questions over his potential return.
- Mariusz Pudzianowski won 5 World’s Strongest Man competitions, more than anyone else, and also finished in second place twice. He has recently switched to MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) competitions, with 5 wins and 2 losses from his 8 bouts so far. During his time in the Strong Man competitions, he was a household name and would be easily recognised as one of the best.
- Agnieszka Radwańska has made strong progress through the ranks of women’s tennis, improving steadily over the past few years and picking up 10 tournament wins. This was highlighted by her reaching the final of the 2012 Wimbled0n tournament, although she lost that over three sets to Venus Williams. She reached the world ranking of number 2 also during this year, showing consistent performance over sustained periods.
- And now Jerzy Janowicz makes further tennis progress, this time on the mens side.
What connects all the above (in one way at least) is that they are all participating in individual sports, fighting for themselves rather than for a club, group or national team. Apart from the volleyball squads (which do not get the same level of profile, despite good success levels), there seems to be more focus on finding that individual sports hero or heroine who can represent the best of Poland. The expectation is set with a few years of monitoring performances closely, at least until the next new idividual star comes along. Thus the question for Poland will be if Janowicz can pick up the ‘hero’ mantle from those who have gone before.