Silesia21 mascot Lunani (© Silesia21 LOC)
A somersault, a handstand, a cartwheel and five pushups. That's how Lunani the giraffe, captain of the World Athletics Relays Silesia21 mascot relay, presented herself at a press conference today to mark the event’s 100 days to go landmark. Lunani of course, owes her dexterity to one great athlete, Piotr Lisek, who was wearing the mascot’s costume. For obvious reasons, the star pole vaulter will not be competing at the Relays, but he has been named an ambassador of the event.
“It's about the power of the team, and there's just one single Polish team,” said Lisek, the national record holder with 6.02m and the 2019 World Championships bronze medallist. “It will be the sprinters competing in Chorzów on the first weekend of May, but all of us field eventers will keep our fingers crossed for our colleagues from the Polish national team. It is, after all, their chance of earning Olympic qualification.”
More support will come from the other mascots: Maji the cheetah, Sprinter the ostrich and Julian the lemur. All four are residents of the Silesian Zoo which stands next to Silesian Stadium, the venue for the meeting, and can be visited daily where their residences are labelled with information on the mascot and the competition. The World Athletics Relays Silesia21 has been supporting all four animals. Maji, Sprinter and Julian, like Lunani, will also be the models for the mascot costumes, aimed at entertaining the participants in the competition.
With so much at stake, however, the competition will be more than mere entertainment. The World Athletics Relays Silesia21 provides one of the final opportunities for Olympic qualification, as well as the first to earn tickets to the World Athletics Championships Oregon 22. The meeting is thus of great importance to national relay teams from around the world, including those from the host nation. The Polish women's and mixed 4x400m squads have already earned their Olympic entries, but both Polish 4x100m teams and the men's 4x400m are still in the fight for qualification.
Silesian Stadium, the heart of Polish athletics
The site of the competition is the Silesian Stadium, aka the National Athletics Stadium, which celebrates its 65th anniversary this year. Most fans may associate it with spectacular games of the Polish football team or Jerzy Szczakiel's speedway world championship title, but the arena known as the Witches' Cauldron has also hosted multiple athletics events. Back in the 1960s, Poland's all-time great Irena Szewińska competed there on what was still a cinder track. Most notably, it was here, at the Poland – Soviet Union dual match in 1967 that she equalled the 200m world record clocking 22.7.
Today, the Silesian Stadium is Poland's most modern athletics arena and the host of major international events. This year will be a special one – apart from the World Athletics Relays Silesia21, the stadium will play host to the European Team Championships on the last weekend of May (with Poland defending the title won in Bydgoszcz in 2019), as well as two World Athletics Continental Tour meetings: the Janusz Kusocinski Memorial silver meeting on 30 May and the Kamila Skolimowska Memorial gold series meeting on 5 September.
“The Silesian Stadium aspires to being one of the world's prime athletics arenas,” said Jan Widera, the stadium’s chairman. “Hosting the World Athletics Relays is the first step towards that goal. I have been a coach for many years and I can assure you the relay races, which will reign in the stadium on the 1st and 2nd of May, are some of the most exciting events at every athletics meeting.”
Bartlomiej Kowalski, the European Team Championships director, added: “The athletes will have an opportunity of qualifying for the major global championship events in our stadium. We aim to create the best possible environment for them to achieve their goals and realise their dreams in the National Athletics Stadium. We are thinking ahead. We realise that the success of this event can lead to more global events being hosted in the region.”
Joing Lisek as ambassadors of both the World Athletics Relays Silesia21 and the European Team Championships are European 400m champion Justyna Swiety-Ersetic, European indoor 60m champion Ewa Swoboda and four-time world champion hammer thrower Pawel Fajdek.
“I opted for Silesia last year,” Fajdek said. “I am proud to be an ambassador of Silesian sport and to represent the AZS AWF Katowice club. We travel all over the world to compete, but there is no place like this one. No other stadium is hosting so many important events in one year. We prove anything is possible, even in these difficult times of the pandemic. I am proud of that. At the World Athletics Relays I will give all my support to our team. As Piotr said, we are one team and the power of the team is hugely important.”
Organisers for World Athletics