Justyna Swiety-Ersetic, Grant Holloway and Sam Kendricks on the eve of the Copernicus Cup in Torun (Organisers) © Copyright
General News Torun, Poland

Despite fan-free atmosphere, world’s best still motivated to perform in Torun

The world’s greatest athletes are still adjusting to having to compete in empty arenas, but fortunately there’s no shortage of motivation as their 2021 seasons get going.

In Torun on Tuesday (16) on the eve of the Copernicus Cup – the penultimate World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting of 2021 – world champions Grant Holloway and Sam Kendricks of the USA joined Poland’s world medallists Marcin Lewandowski, Justyn Swiety-Ersetic and Piotr Lisek to talk about their goals heading into Wednesday’s competition.

Holloway, who has produced some of the fastest 60m hurdles times ever in his three competitions so far this year, says Colin Jackson’s world record of 7.30 is not his main focus.

“I’m not going to say Colin is afraid of his record going, because records are meant to be broken,” said Holloway. “Colin Jackson is a big mentor to me. I’ve asked him questions on how to stay away from hurdles, how to be fast at the start, how to finish and so on. He’s the world record-holder and a world champion, so I look up to him.

“At the end of the day, though, I think everyone puts too much emphasis on the world record. I just need to focus on winning, then the records will come.

“Competing in an arena with no spectators is horrible,” he added. “The fans bring a lot to the way we compete; we feed off the fans. It’s still good that we’re able to execute when fans aren’t there. And we're doing the right thing, of course, but I can't wait to see the fans.”

Kendricks agreed with Holloway’s assessment.

“This is a very emotional sport, and it's that that draws the best out of us,” said the two-time world pole vault champion. “We're missing that, but people are still getting it done – Grant set a national record last week.”

Kendricks didn’t compete in Torun last year when Mondo Duplantis set his first world record of 6.17m. And while Duplantis has had to skip this year’s Copernicus Cup due to a slight hamstring niggle, Kendricks is still fired up to compete against Lisek; a man with whom he has shared a podium at the past two World Championships and World Indoor Championships.

“Mondo has set a really high bar, but me and Piotr are always shooting for medals,” said Kendricks. “I’m really excited to jump with him tomorrow. We both perform well when we’re up against each other. In our competitions this year I’ve got the slight advantage at 2-1, so I’m sure he’ll be fighting to make that record even tomorrow.”

Lisek will be looking for a confidence-boosting performance tomorrow ahead of the European Indoor Championships, which will be held in the same Torun Arena in just a few weeks’ time.

“I would like to show that my form is improving leading into the European Indoor Championships,” said Lisek, winner of the European indoor title in 2017. “I hope to produce some good jumps in Arena Torun; I have only good memories of competing here.”

European champion Swiety-Ersetic also has fond memories of Arena Torun as it’s where she set her Polish indoor 400m record of 51.37 last year. Tomorrow she’ll line up in that event alongside Dutch duo Femke Bol and Lieke Klaver, who have clocked 50.81 and 51.48 respectively in recent weeks.

But Swiety-Ersetic, who last week set an indoor 300m PB of 37.32 on the same Torun track, says she’s ready for her first indoor 400m race of the year.

“The opposition will be very strong, because the other women in the field have already shown this year that the level is very high,” she said. “But I have also been working hard and I want to show what I can do.”

Lewandowski, the world 1500m bronze medallist, has a slightly different motivation for wanting to perform as well as possible on Wednesday. As he does every year at the Copernicus Cup, Lewandowski will donate his prize money to a charitable cause. And the higher his finishing position, the more money he’ll be able to earn.

“I’m always trying to find new motivation, and when there are 5000 spectators here then it’s easy to perform well,” he said. “This time we won't have spectators, so I’ve found different motivation: the plan for tomorrow is to break my own national indoor record (3:36.50). I was close to it in Lievin last week (3:36.83), so that’s one of my goals for tomorrow.

“Every year, I donate my earnings from this competition to charity,” he added. “That’s my biggest goal for tomorrow – finish high up in the race and earn as much as possible. This year I’ll be donating the money to two people from my neighbourhood. One of them is a young girl who needs an operation, and the other is a good friend of mine from school who is in need at the moment.

“People say that I get better with age, like a fine wine,” added the 33-year-old former 800m specialist, who set a 3000m PB of 7:51.69 earlier this year. “I’d agree with that.”

Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics