Angelika Cichocka in the 800m at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Sopot 2014 (© AFP / Getty Images)
As a first-time visitor to Australia, much less the high plains village of Falls Creek, Angelika Cichocka didn’t know quite what to expect.
One thing she did not expect, though, was the crush of a speed session on the dusty and grassy 4WD tracks alongside the aqueducts channelling water into the Rocky Valley Dam. With three-figure numbers attending the work-outs, traffic control is as much a part of the session as is physical effort.
Adding on one more layer of difficulty for Cichocka – pronounced ‘Hick-ot-ska’ – and the other members of her group is that in Australia the protocol of traffic flow is ‘keep to the left’. That’s in line with the Australian notion that, with one or two exceptions, the rest of the world drives on the wrong side of the road.
So, it is up one side of the wheel-rutted track, turn, and back down the other. Passing requires the same sort of expert timing as in an F1 grand prix.
Searching for a comparison, Cichocka considers, then rejects, Kenya: “There are hundreds there. But here, our first session, it was like 100 people. Crazy. It’s a paradise for runners.
“From joggers to really top athletes – just seeing how they train, how they cooperate with each other.”
On a high
Falls Creek Village sits on the edge of the Bogong High Plains, where most of the running is done. At about 1800 metres, it does not really offer top quality altitude training, but it is about as high as you can get in Australia while still offering a variety of suitable running terrain.
Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko (2228m), is named in honour of a great Polish patriot, which would make it very appropriate for the Cichocka group, but the surrounding area offers no suitable training at higher altitudes than the High Plains.
That is all academic as Cichocka sits in the shaded quadrangle of one of the University of Melbourne’s residential colleges and talks about her first training trip ‘down under’ and how it might impact on her aims for 2018 and beyond. Her group – coach Tomasz Lewandowski and fellow athletes Marcin Lewandowski and Jakub Holusa – came here in response to repeated invitations from Gregor Gojrzewski, an ex-Polish coach who settled in Australia 20-or-so years back.
How the trip and the training camp play into the group’s ambitions will be tested at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018 on 1-4 March. Cichocka said the emphasis was on endurance work while the group was at altitude. The group has also done some track sessions at Melbourne’s Lakeside Stadium with Australian middle-distance runner Luke Mathews.
Following a world indoor 800m silver medal in 2015, a European indoor 1500m silver medal in 2015 and a European title over 1500m in 2016, Cichocka is looking to take the next step over the next three years leading up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
With the next three years bringing the World Indoor Championships, European Championships, a World Championships and an Olympic Games, Cichocka will not be short of medal opportunities, provided she remains fit and healthy.
A medal? “I dream about it,” she says. “I think every athlete dreams about it.”
Achieving the dream is something else. Cichocka says she is not focused solely on outcomes. “My focus is to be strong, to be healthy, then everything (else) is going to be OK.”
The IAAF World Championships London 2017 also opened up new possibilities from Cichocka’s improvement over 1500m. Her emphasis has switched to the longer of the two classic middle distances, but, as often happens, it has led to advances at the shorter one as well. She ran personal bests at both 800m (1:58.41) and 1500m (4:01.61) in 2017.
“Making the final of the 800m in London was a huge surprise for me, because I was focused on the 1500m,” said Cichocka, who finished sixth in the shorter event in London and seventh in the longer event.
“The focus will be on 1500m, but I’m sure the 800m will be OK, too.”
The women’s 1500m is in something of a purple patch, with Genzebe Dibaba and Faith Kipyegon winning recent titles with sub-two-minute final 800s after a slow early pace.
“I remember that pain in Beijing,” says Cichocka. “I ran the last 800m in 2:01, in pain. Crazy.” Not so crazy as to put her off, though.
Back on board
Cichocka did not have an indoor season in 2016 or 2017 and is enjoying her return to the boards in 2018. “I’m excited. I’m not doing a huge preparation but I enjoy running and I love indoors. I got my first international medal in Sopot (silver in the 800), so I have lovely memories.”
She returned to Poland at the end of January and, huge preparation or not, raced at the first three IAAF World Indoor Tour meetings. She finished fifth in Karlsruhe on her season’s debut and then placed second in Dusseldorf in a lifetime best of 4:06.35. In Madrid she managed her third sub-4:10 clocking within the space of a week, finishing sixth in 4:09.15.
She will next race at the IAAF World Indoor Tour meeting on home soil in Torun, where she will contest the 800m.
Cichocka’s result in Torun may help her choose which event to contest at the IAAF World Indoor Championships Birmingham 2018 as she is still undecided.
One thing is for sure, though: after finding her way among 100 athletes on a narrow trail at Falls Creek, Cichocka should be well prepared for the heavy traffic of racing around a 200-metre banked oval track.
Len Johnson for the IAAF