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Jedrzejczak back in action for Beijing

By Matt Hodges (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-07-06 11:09

Otylia Jedrzejczak won Poland its first-ever swimming gold at the Athens Games and is gunning for more of the same in Beijing after recovering from a car crash that put her in hospital for six weeks.

The 22-year-old skidded off the road and into a tree on October 1, 2005 in an accident that took her brother's life. She returned to competitive swimming six months later a little slower, but still capable of winning international meets.

Now she is back inside the top-three bracket.

"Otylia feels very good and she will be prepared for Beijing 100 percent," said Poland's Olympic Chef de Mission Kajetan Broniewski last week, himself a former single sculls bronze medalist from Barcelona 1992.

"We are hoping to do better in Beijing than at the Athens Games," he said.

Jedrzejczak won three medals in Athens - gold in the 200m butterfly, silver in the 100m butterfly and silver in the 400m freestyle -- to anchor Poland's most successful Games in the pool and account for almost one-third of its total medal haul at the 2004 Olympics (10). Her hat-trick also equaled the country's previous total number of medals at swimming.

She rediscovered some of her form at the 2007 World Aquatics Championships in Melbourne, where Poland ranked 11th, by placing second at the 400m freestyle and third at the 200m butterfly.

With her help, the Polish Olympic Committee thinks it can improve on its performance in Greece three years ago, where it finished 23rd overall. Broniewski said he is not expecting a gold rush but he thinks Poland can do better in its runner-up finishes.

"We would like to repeat our achievement of three gold medals from Athens, but if we are talking about all medals, we are planning to get 12-15," he said.

All of the country's Olympic sports have sufficient funding, technical and training resources, he said, adding that promising athletes have already begun exchanges with their Chinese counterparts to get used to Beijing's hot and dry climate.

Top prospects for next year include two established weightlifters, Sydney silver medalist Szymon Kolecki and last year's under-105kg world champion Marcin Dolega, while Pawel Korzeniowski, 2005 world champion at the 200m butterfly, offers more hope in the pool, said Broniewski.

Kayaker Marek Twardowski, who finished fifth and fourth at the last two Olympic finals in the K-2 500, is another medal hopeful for Beijing after finishing last year as the world champion in the individual 500m event.

Marta Dziadura (women's modern pentathlon), aging double Olympic gold medalists Robert Sycz and Tomasz Kucharski (lightweight double sculls), and Mateusz Kusnierewicz and Dominik Zycki (sailing) are also on the list of possible podium-finishers.

Finn specialist Kusnierewicz is responsible for both of Poland's sailing medals to date and picked up his second, a bronze, in Athens.

The country has never gold medaled in gymnastics, cycling, canoeing, archery or handball at the Olympics, and is not expecting much success in these areas next year.

Three-time Olympic shooting medalist Renata Mauer hopes to qualify for Beijing after failing to medal in Athens, but less is expected of Poland's boxers, who were once a leading source of silverware but have not been able to produce at the Summer Games since 1992.

The Polish Boxing Federation is now beset by problems as many of its boxers are moving away to join trade unions, said Broniewski.