Adam Kszczot keeps all of his medals in a paper bag at his home and he added one of the most cherished of his career thus far to his collection courtesy of a masterful display at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018 in March.
Kszczot is known affectionately as “the professor” in Poland and the 28-year-old demonstrated once again why that nickname is befitting of Poland’s 800m supremo.
It took nearly the remainder of the programme for the results of the final to be made official as protests and counter protests were launched but Kszczot conducted himself faultlessly, extricating himself from the inevitable argy-bargy of tactical indoor 800m running with a decisive move just after the halfway point.
“It was perfect. I couldn’t have imagined a better tactical race for me,” said Kszczot. “It’s one of the greatest feelings because I’ve always wanted to be a world champion. I have so many medals in my collection but this one I wanted really badly.”
Dominant in Europe
With five European titles to his name, Kszczot has been the standard bearer at continental level this decade but he has invariably come up against a slightly superior adversary in finals on the global stage. Kenya’s world record-holder David Rudisha and France’s supremely talented but sometimes erratic Pierre-Ambroise Bosse have had the better of Kszczot at the last two IAAF World Championships.
But Kszczot, who is often found tracking the pacemaker’s heels in the indoor halls around Europe, refined his tactical approach for this indoor season, running either even - or negative - splits in all of his races to great effect. “Usually in the indoor season I push at the front but this season was very different, this season I was behind,” said Kszczot, who ran splits of 55.95 and 51.52 to take the title in Birmingham.
He was unbeaten on the IAAF World Indoor Tour but it was only two weeks prior to Birmingham that he made the decision to line up at the showcase event of the indoor season. This decision was precipitated by the fact that Kszczot, who will be 30 by the time of the next IAAF World Championships in Doha, perhaps only has two or three more rolls of the dice left to land a global title in his favoured event.
“This indoor season I had five races in 12 days and I was travelling a lot and I didn’t decide if I would go to the World Indoor Championships until the Polish Championships. My wife told me that in two years’ time, you probably won’t go [to the 2020 World Indoor Championships in Nanjing, China] because of the Olympics so this was the biggest factor,” said Kszczot, who is plotting a move up to the 1500m after the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The consummate championship racer
Only once since 2010 has Kszczot finished a season empty-handed from championship events, accruing 11 medals indoors and outdoors. Kszczot has showed his dexterity time and time again in a championship environment and sacrificing the chance to go up against the clock (his lifetime best of 1:43.30 dates all the way back to 2011) is a compromise Kszczot has been more than willing to make in his career.
“Take a closer look at how good I have prepared for the main events,” he said. “The training programme is tailored to the main event. Rarely are there good, fast races after the main event and most of the athletes are then out of shape anyway. All of the best races are at the beginning of the season; I’m not adjusting to be in high shape two months before and keep it for a long time.
“The main thing is to be good at the right moment. Everything is preparing for medals, for the main events.”
Outdoor season kick off in Doha
This approach which has served Kszczot so well in his career will be one which he will employ again for the summer campaign, which begins on Friday at the IAAF Diamond League kick-off in Doha. Kszczot describes the commercial circuit as a “step through the season” before picking out three events he is eager to perform well in outdoors.
“We have the European Championships, the World Cup in London this year and we have the Continental Cup at the end of the season so there are a lot of good races and the first goal is to prepare really well and run good results,” he said.
“The second goal is to fight for the gold medal in Berlin because it will be history. If I will win the third one in a row, this would be something really big.”
Kszczot could renew his rivalry with Bosse in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin this summer. They were first and second at the World Championships in London last August but Kszczot doesn’t reflect on that final as an opportunity missed. Rudisha was one of a long list of big names absent from that final but Kszczot himself didn’t take to the start-line in his very best shape either and doesn’t have any regrets.
“I think I did everything that I could,” he said. “It was a hard year for me, I didn’t run any good or fast races during the season and I struggled with my shape and everything but the brilliant part was the mental preparation. I was ready to fight for medals no matter what and I was calm and I knew what to do. He [Bosse] surprised me a little, pushing from 500 metres and I tried to find the space for myself to go behind him but I couldn’t do it properly.”
But Kszczot got it right in Birmingham at the start of March, fulfilling a dream which he harboured ever since he wore the Polish vest in an international competition for the first time in 2007.
“Ever since the 2007 European U20 Championships in Hengelo [when he won bronze], since that moment more than ten years ago, I’m still fighting on the top. It means a lot for me: I never thought I would be so long in athletics at such a high level.”
Steven Mills for the IAAF