Polish skeleton in the nutshell. One problem after another

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This article is a translation of the interview I have given to sportsinwinter portal in January 2022. The original version in Polish is avaliable below

In case that it will become unavailable in the future You can use this link to obtain a PDF printout: http://pogoda.cc/d/polski_skeleton_w_pigulce__problem_goni_problem_-_sportsinwinter.pl.pdf

Because the key of the interview (problems mentioned in the heading) may be hard to catch without wider context of the current situation within sliding sports in Poland, I will add some explanation, which is of course not present in original article. All extras will be marked by bold italics

In one month winter sports athletes will compete for medals during Winter OG in China. Skeleton sliders will be present among them, but our competitors will be missing. One of only few people in Poland who train and compete in Skeleton Sport is Mateusz Lubecki.

Long story short: In early October 2021 the conflict between the NF on one side and the National Team and the coach on the opposite, had reached it’s peak. Our coach, Oleg Polywacz has revoked his contract with immediate result (without a revocation period) and in one day, when everybody were training hard in China, we almost lost everything. After few very strict and firm meetings in the Department of Professional Sport in Ministry of Sport & Tourism some very weak and temporary agreement has been signed. Nevertheless because of what happened (or rather what didn’t) in last years chances for Olympic qualification was and still is NIL.

Difficult Begining

Skeleton in Poland is definitely an obscure sport which only handful of people even heard about it. We might conclude that doing this exciting and risky looking sport is not easy in our country. Mateusz Lubecki saw this problem shortly after he had started with the sport.

„””Everything started by a chance. I have started paragliding in 2011 so Skeleton is not my first extreme sport. In December 2017 I saw a Youtube video about skeleton. I though: 'It looks cool, why not to try this?' I did my first runs on ice (but on Luge sled) in February 2018 on the old, wooden and naturally iced track in Krynica Zdrój. This was possible because of Przemysław Pochłód, head coach of SMS Karpacz. My first contact with real, artificially refrigerated Ice Track happened in November 2018 in Sigulda. I participated in the Showelrace. A competition invented by Latvian Junior Skeleton Team about 10 years ago. My first time on skeleton sled happened in February 2020 in St Moritz during a school organized by Olympia Bob Run. I catch a contact with Polish skeleton team accidentally. I met Oleg Polywacz and his son Wład when I was in Sigulda for Showelrace competition. „””

I was thinking about mentioning Gints Dzerve and Rainers directly but this made no sense in scope of this interview. Skeleton team is much more apparent and the most important goal of advertising Showelrace has been achieved 🙂

Costs of doing skeleton

Lubecki have one start in IBSF Europe Cup on his account. In february 2021 he debuted in Innsbruck Igls and was ranked 41th (the last place). „”” I have bought a full set of equipment, I participated in long training camp in Sigulda in December 2020 and after then our coach had made a decision that I can go to Igls, the easiest track in the World to try my best in IBSF Europe Cup. My last ice training was in November 2021. I wasn’t able to go with National Team for training camp in Lillehammer and I had to do everything myself and train alone in Austria. Unfortunately this was complete disaster. Car malfunction on the autobahn in Czech Republic. A garage in Břeclav which fraud me for EUR 250. Damaged start shoe, lost & found helmet and more importantly big problems with driving on the track (I had big problems especially with the 9th curve which is the most difficult part of Igls if You are sliding from the top). It is impossible to do anything in this sport if You don’t have a coach. A person who look on Your runs, what You do on the ice and immediately gives You tips, tells You what You do wrong and why and things like that. I hope that it will be possible to go with the rest of the team in February this year to Igls for IBSF organized training. „””

Freshly recruited bob team started the season in early November 2021 in Lillehammer. I wasn’t able to go there (although it was possible in plain theory) because of very high costs of living and sliding in Norway along with some logistic problems with transporting myself and my equipment. The consecutive training was scheduled in Sigulda for December 2021, but unfortunately our coach Oleg Polywacz had refused to let me go with them. He argued that he is alone and he will not have enough time to take enough care on me and the Bob team is a first priority. Practice shown that Oleg had few weeks of continuous crunch mode. He was starting his work with the team about 9..10AM and finishing 9…10PM after all trainings and equipment maintenance has been done. Without even single day of break. For me this was the first clear sign how closely I’m dependent from the National Federation, the Team and Oleg Polywacz. My frustration of having no influence to which extend I can do this sport have started to grow.

„””I do not qualify to be financed by the ministry of sport, so I need to pay for everything by myself. According to my accounting data I have spent 32122 PLN so far for this sport (about EUR 7100). The most expensive part of this sport are runs. One single run in Igls costed EUR 30, but the price has been raised to EUR 33. I adjusted my whole life to do sports. I moved few years ago to Beskids Mountains, to Bielsko – Biała to be able to fly more and from better takeoffs than before. I quit a job in a corporation and switched to B2B and remote work to be able to decide where and when I work. Athletes in Germany usually do no less than 80 to 100 runs in the preparation period but they have free & unlimited access to tracks.”””

To be able to practice with the team I had and still have to pay for my IBSF sporting license. It cost about EUR 120 yearly and it is some sort of the financial commitment to what the NF had to pay the coach for his job. Nevertheless I have to pay for everything else when I attend training camp. Shared costs of accommodation, transport and of course all my runs. This year I also had to pay these EUR 120, but unfortunately I got nothing for this. This makes my frustration even bigger.

Long and tangled way to solve problems

„””The main problem for sliding is drastic raise of cost of electricity. We may build a track in Poland which is extremely expensive construction on it’s own, but it operation needs to be finances somehow. The track in Italy had been demolished just after the WOG in Torino. The track in Nagano is no longer used for sliding. When Aare in Sweden was applying for WOG nobody even though about building own track. Instead they signed an agreement with Sigulda to have all sliding events conducted there. The future of sliding is unknown. It is also very hard to recruit new athletes and persuade youth to do sports at all. Social Media makes big impact on youths. Because of theirs commitment to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok they don’t feel a need of doing any sport at all. The another problem is persuading parents to let them do it even if kids want to do so. Sport is very time consuming thing and the education shall be kept as the highest priority. Is it impossible to earn any money from sliding, so kids should be focused to learn good and profitable profession.”””

The main, big problem of sliding beside costs is a need to relay on other people. As I mentioned before it is virtually impossible to do anything and develop a skill without having anybody who can guide the athlete. The another problem is that, to be fair neither IBSF nor National Federations (and I’m not talking only about PL) are interested in making skeleton a sport open for everybody. The only place in Europe where anybody can try it is Olympia Bob Run in St Moritz. If St Moritz will stop organizing Skeleton School in the future the sport will be closed. Federations take care only about the professional aspect. Having as many nations in EC/ICC/WC as it is possible to protect the sport from being removed from WOG program. Usually they not only don’t want to help newcomers and amateurs, they may disturb them and make a training process harder like my case. From amateur perspective it is impossible to do anything without a coach and in the same moment, it is impossible to employ such person on theirs own as typical salary of full time skeleton coach varies between EUR 1500 up to EUR 3000 gross per month.

The only polish skeleton athlete in the history of WOG was Monika Wołowiec. In 2006 in Torino she got the last, 15th place. There are only 17 skeleton athletes on IBSF list (only two currently active) including our speaker, Mateusz Lubecki.

My frustration about situation I am now with skeleton is getting bigger and bigger. It is not only because I have too big ambitions. Maybe I watch Dukurs brothers to often and I have wishful thinking. The biggest no-no for me with this sport is that I have to rely or somebody. I have to assume that somebody won’t cheat me and do everything they promise to do. After all these fuckups I am more and more distrustful and suspicious. This is why I am closer and closer to make a decision to quit sliding and stay with all things I love to do, things which give me true freedom and independence from another people. Look how thin are the border between being proud of weak debut in European Cup and the current state.

I’m tired or rather mentally devastated by all these covid bullshit. All these lockdowns which dumped our economy into a toilet. I’m tired because of 9% inflation (UPDATE: 9 percents is an inflation 12.2020 to 12.2021. Since 2022 we have massive rises of electricity and natural gas costs for companies, like 200% to 800%. This cause dynamic price changing. Like bread costs 10% more ONE day after ANOTHER) we have in Poland. I’m tired because of the highest tax rises in PL history caused by stupid lockdowns. Nobody takes care about problems I have. Everybody only repeats that I had to jab myself every 6 months and wear the stupid and uncomfortable mask which helps nothing. To summarize. If You want to start with skeleton and You are not recruited by the NF remember that You: Must life in vicinity of the track AND have good contact with the track operator AND had a coach who will help You AND have a good contact with the NF which will issue You the IBSF license (preferably for free).

If the answer for any of these parts is NO it would be better for You to do something other. Fly paragliders, master Your skiing and skitouring skills, sail catamarans, sailing dinghies or offshore yachts. Be Yourself. Be free.

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